Hong Kong’s health authorities announced that all people living in a Kwai Chung residential building will be subject to a five-day lockdown after at least 20 Covid-19 cases were detected there.

Around 2,700 residents of Yat Kwai House in Kwai Chung Estate will be kept under home quarantine and undergo daily compulsory testing from 6 p.m. on Friday until next Wednesday, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan told reporters on Friday night.

yat kwai house mailbox covid-19
The Home Affairs Department and the Kwai Tsing District Office distributed COVID-19 rapid test kits to residents of four buildings near Yat Kwai House in Kwai Chung Estate on January 21, 2021. Photo: GovHK.

Residents will be required to stay in their homes, even after completing their daily testing.

Chan said as there were already at least 20 confirmed and preliminary cases detected in the building, “it tells us clearly that there has been a outbreak in the community,” describing the situation as “concerning.”

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), told reporters in an earlier Covid-19 briefing on Friday that the infection had spread to 13 units on 12 floors, with concerned units facing in nine different directions.

According to Chuang, the cluster involved residents, visitors and people who worked as security or cleaning staff there.

testing kwai chung
A resident of Yat Kwai House, Kwai Chung Estate, registers to take a Covid-19 test. Photo: GovHK.

Different government departments and official pandemic advisor Yuen Kwok-yung inspected the residential building on Thursday night.

Chan said Yuen believed that there were no problems with the structure, including its ventilation and pipes, which was why the government did not evacuate the building.

During the five-day lockdown, residents will be provided with food and anti-epidemic resources.

However, Chan did not directly answer reporters’ questions about whether those who were unable to go to work because of the lockdown would be compensated. Chan instead appealed to employers to “treat this situation in a more open and understanding manner,” and not to “deduct their salary.”

Suspected ‘super-spreader’

As experts did not identify any structural issues, health authorities suspected there was a “super-spreader” at Yat Kwai House, Controller of the CHP, Edwin Tsui, said during Friday night’s press conference.

Tsui said experts believed that the most probable explanation for the outbreak having spread throughout the building was that a super-spreader had roamed on different floors of the building.

“From the connections we have found at the moment, we all believe that a cleaner has the highest possibility of coming into contact with the largest amount of people.”

The super-spreader was believed to be at their most infectious between January 16 and January 18, Tsui said, so authorities were hoping to find anyone who might have been infected by them during the lockdown, when symptoms might develop after the incubation period.

Silka Seaview Hotel
Silka Seaview Hotel. Photo: Yaudre Tai Ming, via Wikicommons.

The cases were found to be connected to an imported Omicron case at the centre of the Silka Seaview Hotel cluster.

On Thursday, the CHP’s principal medical and health officer Albert Au said genome sequencing analysis had shown that the first confirmed case in the building – a 79-year-old man – was carrying the same strain of Omicron as a woman who caught Covid-19 after a suspected cross-infection occurred at the hotel.

The CHP’s Contact Tracing Office discovered that the woman’s husband had been to Yat Kwai House and two other housing buildings in Kwai Chung Estate on January 13 to collect items from the refuse points to hawk on Nam Cheong Street in Sham Shui Po.

20 preliminary positive cases

Hong Kong recorded 24 Covid-19 cases on Friday, 18 of which were local. Two of them had no known transmission source, namely a 24-year-old man who lives in Cheung Sha Wan Estate and a 37-year-old man living in New Haven in Tsuen Wan.

testing tsuen kwan o
A staff member carries out a Covid-19 test at Bauhinia Garden in Tseung Kwan O. Photo: HKGov

Among the 16 linked local cases, four were traced back to the Little Boss pet shop cluster. A 30-year-old woman who bought a hamster at the chain’s Causeway Bay store on January 11, and another who visited the Mong Kok branch on January 4, both tested positive.

Also part of the cluster is an 82-year-old who visited the same Aberdeen restaurant, Dragon Place, on the same day as a patient whose wife went to Little Boss in Causeway Bay. They sat at tables that were some distance apart, Chuang of the CHP said, but both used the bathroom while they were there. Staff at the restaurant will be sent to quarantine and the eatery will shut for two weeks.

Authorities said there were about 20 preliminary positive cases, among which 10 are linked to the Yat Kwai House cluster. A construction worker who lives in Nam Cheong and worked shifts at Kwai Chung and Tin Shui Wai also tested preliminary positive. The 40-year-old developed symptoms on Thursday.

As of Friday, the city has reported 13,120 Covid-19 cases, while the death toll stood at 213.

Additional reporting: Hillary Leung.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.