Leading Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung has predicted that the city will see a spike of at least 400 coronavirus cases over the coming fortnight as citizens return home from hard-hit countries and regions.

Speaking to Commercial Radio on Friday, the director of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection said the number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong had increased significantly this week. With more Hongkongers living abroad coming home, Ho expressed concern that the risk of a community outbreak would be heightened.

Ho Pak-leung. File photo: RTHK screenshot.

“There might be hidden virus-carriers who may spread the virus in the community, Hong Kong needs to be in a battle mode to treat this epidemic,” he said.

Ho predicted that 10 to 20 per cent of the new infections would be serious cases, but the number of hospital beds available in Intensive Care Units (ICU) will not be sufficient to cope with the demand. He added such pressures on the public hospital system could lead to infections, or even deaths, among frontline medics.

On Thursday, Hong Kong saw a record-high number of 16 additional cases in a day, pushing the total number of infections to 208. Among the new cases, 14 patients had a history of travel during the incubation period or were classified as important cases.

Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

The city also recorded its first case that involved a pregnant woman. The 32-year-old – who travelled to Australia, Italy, Germany and Dubai from late January to mid-March – developed symptoms of fever and runny nose but is now in a stable condition.

Under the new compulsory quarantine measures, all persons arriving from overseas countries and regions – excluding Taiwan and Macau – are required to go into home quarantine for 14 days.

Ho said home quarantine is not an ideal method, as the living spaces in Hong Kong are usually cramped. It would be difficult for households to provide a separate room and toilet for the quarantined person to use. He suggested the government rent hotels for isolation, where arriving persons can be sent directly from the airport.

Ho said such measures would not mark a repeat what happened at the former Metropark Hotel Kowloon during the SARS outbreak in 2003, when an infected resident from Guangzhou spread the virus to more than 10 other residents and visitors: “The anti-epidemic awareness in society was insufficient at the time. But now a person in quarantine – who is asymptotic – would wear a mask all the time, so it would not be an issue,” he said.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.