A second guest who attended a controversial birthday party for a Chinese delegate to China’s top legislature last Monday has been tested preliminary positive for Covid-19. Her test result came after another guest tested for the virus was found to be a false positive, prompting officials quarantined at Penny’s Bay to be released early over the weekend. However, they will see out their remaining quarantine period at home until the new case is clarified.

Hong Kong added another 33 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, with over 20 preliminary positive cases, health authorities said.

A photo taken at the party showed over 40 people attending at the same time. Photo: Channel C.
A photo taken at the party showed over 40 people attending at the same time. Photo: Channel C.

The 43-year-old woman who tested preliminary positive had attended a birthday party with 190 guests for Hong Kong’s delegate to the National People’s Congress Witman Hung.

At least 13 senior government officials and 19 lawmakers attended Monday’s celebration at a Wan Chai restaurant. They included police chief Raymond Siu, immigration chief Au Ka-wang, Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui and Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Christopher Hui.

Around 180 people – including officials and lawmakers – were to be sent into mandatory quarantine at Penny’s Bay on Friday evening after a 37-year-old woman in attendance was confirmed to have Covid-19, as a second woman aged 53 tested preliminary positive.

However most of the guests were released from quarantine at around midnight Saturday, after officials determined that the 53-year-old’s case was a false positive, HK01 reported. Her coronavirus test was conducted by her doctor husband, and was “likely contaminated” by vaccines administered at the clinic he operated, government expert Yuen Kwok-yung said.

Eleven officials will now see out their remaining quarantine period at home, by order of the chief executive, according to a Sunday press release.

Penny's Bay Covid-19 quarantine centre on Lantau
Penny’s Bay Covid-19 quarantine centre on Lantau. File photo: GovHK.

The latest guest who tested preliminary positive attended the party together with the first patient, said Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection during a press briefing on Sunday. The party’s guest list included 192 people in all, although only 181 were found through contract-tracing.

Around 80 guests had their stays at Penny’s Bay halted. However, 92 people who attended the party after the first patient arrived at 9:30 p.m. will remain at at the centre on Lantau for the full 21 days of quarantine.

Apology statements

The party cluster and the involvement of top government officials rocked the government last week, prompting top-level apologies. Before some officials were allowed to leave Penny’s Bay early, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a statement on Friday evening that the director for her office Chan Kwok-ki and the head of the civil service Patrick Nip had been assigned to investigate the officials’ roles at the party, including their time of arrival, their duration of stay, and behaviour at the event.

The party's venue, Reserva Iberica in Wan Chai.
The party’s venue, Reserva Iberica in Wan Chai. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Officials subjected to quarantine would not be allowed to continue to discharge their duties and must use their own vacation leave during the period at Penny’s Bay, she said. Those sent home will also need to use their own holiday allowance. The officials’ deputies will act in their superiors’ absence.

The 13 officials issued statements of apology over the weekend. Hui, secretary for financial services and the treasury and his deputy Joseph Chan apologised for the “additional burden to the anti-epidemic work.” Under Secretary for Home Affairs Jack Chan said he should not have attended the event, and apologised for the “lack of sensitivity.”

Meanwhile, his superior – Secretary Caspar Tsui – who was singled out by Chief Executive over the incident, made a second apology on social media: “During the days in quarantine, I will undergo deep reflection and review the events to consider what I did inappropriately,” said Tsui.

‘Illegally detained’

Pro-Beijing firebrand Junius Ho, who was among the guests at Penny’s Bay before early release, lambasted transport delays at the facility. Describing the city’s anti-epidemic efforts as a “sand castle,” he defended the birthday party and claimed he was “illegally detained.”

Junius Ho
Junius Ho. Photo: Junius Ho via Facebook.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan “should immediately send two police vehicles over if she is smart,” the lawmaker said. He also called on the chief executive to step down during a livestream on Facebook as he waited to be picked up by a government vehicle.

Expert urges tougher measures

Among Sunday’s 33 new cases, the city’s health authorities identified six local cases, of which one had unknown origins, HK01 reported.

The Dean of University of Hong Kong’s medical faculty Gabriel Leung said during an interview on TVB that the government should consider more stringent anti-epidemic measures. The government could introduce stricter social distancing measures, encourage more workers to work from home, or have schools release students from classes earlier for the Lunar New Year holidays, he said.

In total, Hong Kong has reported 12,770 confirmed Covid cases as of Sunday, while the death toll stands at 213.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.