Hong Kong reported 123 new coronavirus cases on Friday – a new daily record, raising the city’s total case count to 2,372. Meanwhile, the city’s death toll reached 16 following the passing of a 74-year-old man on Friday at United Christian Hospital. He was a resident at an elderly care home.
The Centre for Health Protection confirmed that 62 of the new cases have links with other cases, pending ongoing investigation. The remaining 53 new infections appear to be unrelated to any existing cases whilst eight were imported.
“[W]e are seeing patients who have many social activities that are difficult to track and difficult to put their close contacts under quarantine,” Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the centre’s Communicable Disease Branch, told the press. “The testing facility, the quarantine facility, as well as hospital capacity are reaching their limits. If this trend continue[s], it would be very difficult for us to control these cases.”
Among the 62 cases, 54 were transmitted via gatherings with relatives and friends, such as eating out at restaurants and playing mahjong. Others were infected at the workplace or through eating out with colleagues without wearing a mask. Eight cases were imported from abroad, including from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and Ethiopia. The latter infection was a result of close contact with a pilot.
Infections have been found among customers and workers of the city’s restaurants, wet markets, and residential aged care facilities. One case was a customer at Tak Kee Chiu Chow restaurant in Sai Wan. There were also cases found among diners at Star Restaurant in Ho Man Tin, and another eatery in Tuen Mun.
One of the city’s top health experts, Gabriel Leung, has said that the government’s list of exemptions from mandatory quarantine may be to blame for the third wave of infections. Research from Leung – the dean of the medicine faculty at the University of Hong Kong – directly refutes the government’s claim that the current rise in cases was not linked to policies that exempt certain groups and individuals from 14-day quarantine requirements.
According to RTHK, Leung has said that recent cases have arisen in new areas of the city which are discrete and unrelated to previous clusters. This suggests that new infections are stemming from imported cases brought into the city by those who did not undergo mandatory quarantine measures.
“When they entered Hong Kong, there were no immediate quarantine measures or testing arrangements. You could imagine, some of the crew members, the hotel they stay in maybe is downtown,” he said.
The government had made certain exemptions from mandatory quarantine measures for incoming travellers from mainland China, Macau, and Taiwan. As of July 15, exemptions were made for individuals who were “necessary” for the supply of goods, government operations, safeguarding public health, and for those who were pursuing primary and secondary education.
Travelling for manufacturing or business operations, or professional services in the interests of Hong Kong’s economic development also constitute valid reasons for exemptions. Executives from hundreds of companies listed on the local and mainland stock exchanges are among those who can cross borders freely.
Leung has urged for a new governmental approach in order to stem the spread of the virus. He also stressed that further efforts should be made to detect cases at the city’s borders, and to quarantine the close of contacts of those who have been diagnosed with Covid-19.
Meanwhile, a temporary quarantine centre is being set up at Asia-World Expo to offer 24-hour medical care for patients from residential care homes. The first hall will have a capacity of 100 beds, and will be up and running within the week. The authorities say that the new temporary centre will ease the pressure on the city’s public hospitals, and will allow hospital staff to focus on treating more serious cases.