A leading Hong Kong medical expert said on Monday that the government relaxed Covid-19 social distancing rules too soon and the community still had a certain level of transmission risk. The comments came after Hong Kong recorded 20 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, with 19 locally transmitted cases – six cases had unknown origins.

Leading Hong Kong University microbiologist Ho Pak-leung told RTHK radio that the current case numbers may not reflect the actual situation as testing slowed down during the Lunar New Year holidays.

Covid-19 coronavirus virus employment
Photo: GovHK.

“The cases are dispersed across different districts – every district has it, the community has a certain level of transmission risk,” said Ho.

“The timing and the pace of relaxing social-distancing measures is an administrative decision, the government chose to relax the rules in the middle of the holidays, I believe that they have more concerns over the needs of the economy.”

“Personally I think that the pace of relaxing these rules seems to be too soon,” Ho said.

Hong Kong’s social distancing measures were loosened last Thursday. Restaurants are allowed to host dine-in services after 6pm, and four people can now sit at a table. Gyms, beauty parlours and some other premises were also allowed to reopen.

Coronavirus covid-19 virus lockdown Tin Shui Wai
Photo: GovHK.

On Sunday, six more residential locations recorded one or more coronavirus infection with unknown origins, and were put under the compulsory testing notices.

Residents and visitors to Luen Yan House in Kwai Chung, Tower 5 of Noble Hill in Fanling, High Block of Tsui Nam House in Kwun Tong, 48A-48B Fuk Wa Street and 27-29 Shek Kip Mei Street in Sham Shui Po, Sheung Shun House in Tseung Kwan O, and Ching Yi House in Wong Tai Sin have to take a test by Tuesday.

Vaccination to start

Following the government’s announcement on last Thursday that the mass vaccination programme would start on Friday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and some other top government officials will be vaccinated at 2:30pm on Monday afternoon.

covid19 carrie lam app
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Carrie Lam via Facebook.

The first batch of 1 million doses of China’s Sinovac jabs arrived in Hong Kong on Friday evening after the government approved its emergency use on Thursday. The Sinovac Biotech vaccine was exempt from the requirement that it publish the results from their third phase of trials in medical journals.

When asked about the safety and efficacy of Sinovac, Ho said that the data was “limited.” Since few participated in clinical trials, and because not all results have been published, scientific conclusions cannot be drawn on its efficacy for people aged 60 or above, Ho said.

Sinovac Biotech says its jab has an overall efficacy rate of 50.66 per cent, and if the second dose of vaccine is taken after a 28-day break, the efficacy rate increases to 62.3 per cent. In comparison, BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, which was approved for emergency use by the department last month, has an efficacy rate of 95 per cent. Vaccine registration for priority groups begins on Tuesday.

Hong Kong has seen 10,869 cases of Covid-19 and 197 deaths.

Correction 23:45: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated 100 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine arrived in Hong Kong as opposed to 1 million.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.