Hong Kong hit a daily record high of 67 coronavirus cases on Thursday, including 35 locally acquired cases of unknown origins. Four cases were imported from the Philippines and Indonesia, while the rest were linked to previous locally transmitted infections.
This pushed the city’s tally to 1,655 confirmed cases, while the death toll reached ten as two more Covid-19 patients passed away on Wednesday. The ninth death involved a 90-year-old woman, who became the second from the Tze Wan Shan elderly home cluster to succumb to the disease. The other patient who died was a 89-year-old male resident of Choi Fai Estate in Ngau Chi Wan.
At a press conference on Thursday, Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said she could not yet call the situation a “peak” in infections: “I cannot say that this is the peak, because usually you can only say this is a peak afterwards. There is still a chance that more cases are coming,” she said.
Some of the new cases were related to different local clusters, including the Good Hope School group and infections at a restaurant in Tze Wan Shan. Fears over an outbreak at hospitals deepened as some staffers and patients were confirmed to have the virus.
The hospital-related cases involved a female nurse and another clerk at the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital in Tsuen Wan, as well as a man who works in the non-emergency ambulance transfer service at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. A patient at the Hong Kong Buddhist Hospital and another patient at the Tseung Kwan O Hospital were confirmed to have the virus as well.
The health authorities said that the new hospital cases were not linked to the previous ones, but they have disinfected the wards and offices involved.
Authorities also announced they would exempt some staff canteens and some restaurant staffers from the dine-in restrictions that came into effect on Wednesday midnight. The government announced on Monday that catering businesses can only offer takeaway from 6 pm to 5 am, in a bid to step up social distancing and reduce crowding.
When asked why the government had decided to allow for more exemptions, Under Secretary for Food and Health Chui Tak-yi said there had not been a policy change. He said the authorities have engaged in an ongoing process of handling requests for exemption, reviewing the difficulties and needs of different premises.
“Based on the response from the industry, some workers have difficulties in going out for meals – for example they have to work 24-hours or the location of their offices is remote and have to eat at the staff canteen… it is not convenient or appropriate for them to eat out,” Chui said, adding that the exemption did not apply to factory canteens.
On Wednesday, a local hotpot shop owner Simon Wong said on Facebook that the Food and Health Bureau had informed them that it would be illegal for staffers to eat inside the restaurant. The bureau also told the shop that customers were not allowed to wait for their takeaway orders inside the eatery.
Reporters asked Chui whether the government should take the lead in adopting the work from home policy like it did during the early stage of the outbreak, but the under secretary said government departments have to maintain public services. He added there are other policies to ensure civil servants can work safely in the office, such as adopting flexible work hours and lunch hours and keeping masks on at all times.
“Concerning work arrangement[s], I think it is only one of the measures in addressing the issue of social distancing or reducing crowding. There is a need for the provision of government services to be maintained for citizens,” Chui said.