Hong Kong saw a record-high number of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday after health authorities confirmed that 25 people had been infected in a day. The surge in cases drove the city’s total to 192. All but three of them had travelled abroad during their incubation periods.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) announced an additional 14 men and 11 women – aged 16 to 62 – had tested positive for Covid-19. Most of them had travelled in Europe and the UK from the time of their virus exposure to when their symptoms emerged. Two had arrived from Thailand, one from the US and another from India.

Tsim Sha Tsui masks public coronavirus virus Covid-19
Tsim Sha Tsui. File photo: GovHK.

“In view of [the] proliferation of the disease and continuous increase in the number of cases reported around the world, members of the public are strongly urged to avoid all non-essential travel outside Hong Kong,” a spokesperson for the CHP said.

First detected in China’s Hubei province, Covid-19 has infected more than 210,000 people leading to more than 8,700 deaths across at least 157 countries and regions. Beijing on Thursday reported no new domestic cases of the virus for the first time since the start of the outbreak, despite a surge in cases abroad.

Imprisonment for quarantine violators

Meanwhile, the government’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for passengers from all territories, except for Taiwan and Macau, kicked in on Thursday at midnight. Travellers from mainland China have been required to undergo a two-week quarantine since February 8.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that the latest measure was designed to deter Hong Kong residents from leaving the city.

Last month saw a steep drop of nearly 68 per cent in the number of passengers arriving in and departures from the airport in comparison to the year before, according to the Airport Authority.

Hong Kong airport arrival
File photo: GovHK.

Anyone who breaches the requirement without permission may be subject to a maximum fine of HK$25,000 and imprisonment for six months, according to a government gazette.

Exceptions to the rule included crew members of flights and vessels; government officials on duty; certain high-ranking public officers; irreplaceable construction personnel; researchers involved in combatting the Covid-19 pandemic; staff implementing the quarantine measure, as well as personnel involved in the production and supply of personal protective equipment.

Speaking at Hong Kong International Airport on Wednesday evening, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan and Chief Information Officer Victor Lam Wai-kiu said all inbound travellers will be asked to wear a QR code wristband and download a mobile app, which tracks whether a person has left their quarantine location.

Asked about possible privacy concerns, Lam said the government had consulted the privacy commissioner who approved the use of the app: “In fact, the app will not capture directly the location [of the wearer] but only capture the changes in location – especially the telecommunications and communication signals around the [person confined] to ensure he is staying at home.”

Airport returning inbound traveller coronavirus covid-19
Photo: Stand News.

Chan also said authorities will conduct a day-long pilot test on inbound travellers by taking saliva samples: “Regarding who will be given this test and whether everyone would be tested, it all depends on the capacity of our laboratory.”

“Looking at the number of people coming back, we do not think the current capacity of the laboratory will be able to do [a] test on all [returnees]. We would have to save some capacity for close contact of confirmed cases and we need a buffer.”

The government is considering using North Lantau Hospital or AsiaWorld Expo as additional nearby facilities to deal with a potential influx of people to handle, she added.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.