Hong Kong health authorities apologised to a Nepalese family on Tuesday after a father was mistakenly hospitalised despite the fact it was his son who had tested positive for the coronavirus. The son, meanwhile, remained at a quarantine centre where the family had been taken following contact with another case.

Speaking at a daily media briefing, Controller of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) Wong Ka-hing said the father was sent to the United Christian Hospital on Monday night and stayed in a single-person isolation ward. But the authorities discovered on the next day that it was the son who should have been transferred.

Wong Ka-hing, controller of the Centre for Health Protection. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Wong said the mix-up did not occur in the laboratory, but further investigations had to be carried out before concluding what caused the blunder. He said it could be the similarity in their Nepalese names, so staff members read or called the names wrongly. Or the father and son may have misheard the names.

“It’s too early to tell the exact reason behind [it], but I don’t think this particular incident would affect the other people who are staying in the quarantine centre, because the family itself stayed in the unit,” Wong said, adding that the son would be hospitalised while the father would return to the quarantine site.

The Nepalese family of three had been put under quarantine after being identified as close contacts of a couple that were infected. The family lived in a flat in Yick Shing Mansion in Wan Chai, where they rented a room to the couple. The two families shared bathroom facilities.

21 new cases

Meanwhile, Hong Kong recorded 21 additional cases on Tuesday, pushing to the total number of infections to 935 plus one probable case. Among the new cases, 12 patients had travel history and four of them were students.

Marks & Spencer Food Langham Place Store. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Among the local cases, three worked at Marks and Spencer. They all had attended a karaoke session in CEO Neway in Causeway Bay on March 25 with a previous confirmed case.

The British retailer announced on Facebook on Tuesday that all stores in Hong Kong and its head office in Tsim Sha Tsui would be closed for cleaning and disinfection. Dates for reopening would be subject to further safety assessments.

“The health and wellbeing of our colleagues and customers is our top priority and we are working tirelessly to ensure we come through these exceptional times together,” the statement read.

Four other local cases involved family members of patients who contracted the SARS-like virus in bars and pubs. The number of infections of that cluster has climbed to 97.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

A 38-year-old Nepalese woman who is 19 weeks pregnant was also among the new cases. The authorities said they have not been able to identify any source or link that suggest how the patient became infected. She lived with her son in Temple Street, and authorities suspected that her residence could be a subdivided flat with shared facilities.

“This is one of the cases that causes us concern, because this signifies there is some unknown local chain of transmission, so we try to quarantine their close contacts,” said Chuang Shuk-wan, head of the communicable disease branch at the CHP.

Chuang added that the number of confirmed cases has dropped gradually, but the overall situation had to be monitored for at least 14 days before the authorities could conclude that there was a downward trend.

Correction Wednesday 09:38: A previous version of this article stated that the total number of infections in Hong Kong was 936, in fact it was 935 plus a probable case. We regret the error.

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.