A five-day Covid-19 lockdown which began at Yat Kwai House at Kwai Chung Estate has been expanded to include a neighbouring building. Meanwhile, four other buildings in the estate were placed under an overnight lockdown for residents to be tested, the city’s leader announced on Saturday. The decision came after health authorities found over 100 Covid-19 cases in one day at the public housing estate.

Health workers guide residents outside a building placed under lockdown at the Kwai Chung Estate public housing complex. Photo: Louise Delmotte/AFP.

The number of confirmed or preliminary positive cases at Kwai Chung Estate shot up from 9 to 105 in the space of two days, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said during a press conference on Saturday evening. The number shot up five-fold in one day, she said, showing that the outbreak was “spreading exponentially,” as seen in other countries affected by the Omicron variant.

Around 2,700 residents of Yat Kwai House were kept under home quarantine and were required undergo daily compulsory virus testing until Wednesday after over 20 people tested positive for the virus on Friday.

In all, 96 people at Yat Kwai House tested positive or preliminary positive on the first day of the five-day lockdown, including residents, visitors, and a cleaner who lived at Yat Kwai House but worked at another building on the public housing complex, Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection said on Saturday afternoon.

Eight people at the neighbouring Ying Kwai House – which was placed under lockdown for compulsory testing between 4 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday – tested positive. A cleaner at a third building, Hiu Kwai House, also tested positive.

Dozens of Yat Kwai House residents were seen lining up at testing stations in a basketball court. Photo: Telegram.

All of over 40 cleaners working at the housing estate were considered close contacts and will be placed in quarantine at Penny’s Bay.

To stem transmissions at Kwai Chung Estate, Ying Kwai House was also placed under lockdown for five days starting at 6 p.m. Saturday until next Thursday while residents undergo mandatory virus testing, Lam announced. Due to the short notice, the government was unable to supply any food to affected residents as caterers would need a minimum of four hours preparation, she said. They would be given three meals a day starting Sunday morning.

Four other buildings at the estate – Chin Kwai House, Hiu Kwai House, Yuk Kwai House and Nga Kwai House – were placed under restrictions overnight until Sunday morning or afternoon, while residents underwent compulsory testing.

All residents and visitors to the remaining 11 buildings at the estate and to two buildings at nearby Kwai Fuk Court were also issued with a compulsory testing order, although no lockdown is required.

Household hygiene products supplied to Yat Kwai House residents. Photo: Telegram.

The city added a total of 26 confirmed Covid-19 cases on Friday, of which one was imported and three had unknown sources of infection. Twelve of these cases were asymptomatic. Among them were two medical workers at Princess Margaret Hospital – a resident of Ying Kwai House and their colleague – and a police clerk at Tsuen Wan Police Station, who lived in Yat-Kwai House.  

Lam urged Kwai Chung Estate residents employed at high-risk locations such as elderly homes or medical institutions to refrain from going to work in order to prevent spreading the virus to vulnerable groups of people. Government workers from the estate were also asked to remain at home until further notice from the authorities.

When asked if residents placed under lockdown would be given compensation for lost wages, Lam said residents and people restricted by quarantine were making a “sacrifice” for the anti-epidemic effort, for which she felt “extremely grateful.”

“It is not a question of compensation,” Lam said. “It is a question of getting out of the COVID-19 epidemic, especially relating to the Omicron variant, as soon as possible.”

Regarding doubts over whether the city would be able to keep up with its “zero covid” strategy, Lam said the city’s goal was not to keep cases at “absolute zero” but to aim for the mainland approach of “dynamic zero infections” by suppressing episodic outbreaks to prevent massive community outbreaks. The city did not have the prerequisite to “live with the virus” as in other countries, she said.

Queues and supplies

Photos posted to a Telegram channel for Yat Kwa House residents showed close to 100 people queuing up at a basketball court on the estate as they awaited testing on Saturday.

The building’s residents complained that instructions from the government were confusing and an assistance hotline never connected, InMedia reported.

Crowded lifts seen at Yat Kwai House. Photo: Telegram.

There was no arrangement for people to get tests in batches, which sometimes caused overcrowding at lift lobbies and elevators, as many headed out for their tests at the same time. Around a dozen people were seen squeezing into an elevator, photos showed.

Household trash began accumulating in hallways as all cleaners in Kwai Chung Estate were sent to Penny’s Bay. Photo: Telegram.

Bags of household trash also began to accumulate in hallways as all of the estate’s cleaners were sent to Penny’s Bay.

While hot takeaway food was supplied to every resident three times a day, some complained that they came with no vegetables.

A box of instant noodles with sausage and pork supplied to residents. Photo: Telegram.

Residents were also given household hygiene and dry food supplies, including shower gel, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper rolls, detergent, fruit, cup noodles, tinned fish, luncheon meat, and cup noodles.

The city has recorded 13,146 Covid-19 cases in all, while the number of deaths stands at 213 since the start of the pandemic.

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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.