Another residential block at Kwai Chung Estate has been placed under a five-day lockdown, while a lockdown imposed on another building has been extended until Friday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced. A “tsunami-like” Covid-19 outbreak is looming over Hong Kong, she said, with the public housing complex recording more than 200 cases in just six days.

Carrie Lam on January 25, 2022.
Carrie Lam on January 25, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Meanwhile, all but one top official who attended a birthday party in early January and allegedly violated social distancing rules have resumed official duties, Lam said.

The residents of Ha Kwai House – which was initially placed under an overnight lockdown on Monday – will join those of Yat Kwai House and Ying Kwai House on the public housing complex in compulsory home quarantine. Authorities have identified 226 confirmed and preliminary positive cases within the complex since January 9.

The lockdown at Yat Kwai House, which began last Friday, has been extended for two days as authorities have not yet identified all of the Covid-19 patients in the building. The extension means that more than 2,700 residents will be locked down for a total of seven days. About 20 new cases from the building were recorded on Monday, health authorities said earlier.

kwai chung estate nga kwai house covid test queue
Residents line up for a Covid-19 test outside Nga Kwai House in Kwai Chung Estate on January 24, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

Over 7,000 residents of Kwai Chung Estate have now been restricted from leaving their buildings apart from when they undergo daily mandatory virus testing. The restrictions on Yat Kwai House and Ying Kwai House were originally supposed to be lifted on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

police ppe kwai chung estate
Police wearing full PPE gear outside Kwai Chung Estate on January 24, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

“We had no choice but to extend the restricted area testing declaration for another two days,” Lam said. She said she “completely understands” that residents would feel anxious and sad upon hearing her latest announcement, and she thanked them for their corporation and hoped they would be understanding.

Two clusters continued to spread in the city, including the cluster at the Kwai Chung housing complex – which started with a woman who was suspected to be infected with the Omicron variant while staying in a quarantine hotel – and another Delta cluster, which authorities believe began with imported hamsters.

Two earlier clusters linked to two air crew who violated social distancing rules, had been brought under control, Lam said.

kwai chung estate sign
Kwai Chung Estate. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

“Chances are low” for the government to relax social distancing measures immediately after Lunar New Year, but there may be possibility to “fine tune” existing restrictions, the chief executive said, adding that boosting the vaccination rate and creating vaccination bubbles were a priority. The city could vaccinate more than 85 per cent of its population with at least one dose by February 24 if it continues to administer 20,000 doses per day, Lam said.

‘We are quite concerned’

Long lines for Covid-19 tests formed at Kwai Chung Estate on Monday as thousands of residents queued – many for over an hour. Some said they were worried about the outbreak and were minimising their time outside.

“We haven’t left the house in the past two days, except to go downstairs to buy food. I am not working right now. Maybe I’ll go back to work after Chinese New year,” Ms Cheung, who lives in Nga Kwai House, told HKFP.

Her mother, who was wearing two masks, said she had been doubling up on face protection after a health expert – microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung – suggested it.

“We are quite concerned. Look how far apart we are standing,” the older Cheung said, gesturing to the space between them and the couple in the queue in front.

Ms Leung, who was queueing for a Covid-19 test outside Chau Kwai House with her 3-year-old daughter, said: “I have been stocking up on groceries these past few days just in case we get locked down like the other blocks.”

Birthday party

Lam said an investigation into top government officials who were suspected of violating social distancing rules after attending a birthday party on January 3 was wrapping up, with the results expected before the Lunar New Year holiday.

Caspar Tsui Ying-wai
Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui. File photo: GovHK.

Only Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui has been stopped from resuming official duties until at least after the Lunar New Year break under direct orders from the chief executive. Lam said she was “very disappointed” in the minister, who was tasked with high-level responsibilities including setting and executing the city’s Covid-19 policies.

Officials “cannot bring the government into disrepute,” Lam said. All other officials who attended the party have returned to their duties after completing quarantine and self-monitoring.

Additional reporting: Candice Chau, Hillary Leung.

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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.