Hong Kong reported 164 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday – its highest since the pandemic began – with health officials warning there could be dozens of invisible transmission chains.

The city has recorded around 100 infections in the past four days, which showed that “the virus has been very active in the community,” Edwin Tsui, controller of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), said during Thursday’s daily Covid-19 briefing.

Government enforces lockdown and compulsory testing in Tung Chung on January 26. Photo: GovHK.

Tsui said that the sources of infection remained unknown for more than 30 cases. “This suggests that there are dozens of invisible transmission chains in the community, therefore we believe the risk of outbreak is still very high,” Tsui said.

According to Tsui, there were currenty two transmission chains of concern in Hong Kong: one was the Omicron cluster that began as an outbreak in a quarantine hotel and reached the Kwai Chung Estate; the second involved the Delta variant, which was linked to the “hamster cluster” and spread to Choi Wan Estate in Wong Tai Sin.

When reporters pointed out that Thursday’s confirmed case number was an all-time high, Tsui said the figure was still within the expectations of health authorities. However, he added that “if transmission chains are not brought under control, Omicron cases can surge several fold in a short period.”

According to Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of CHP’s Communicable Disease Branch, 116 of the 164 cases were infected locally.

Edwin Tsui speaking at a Covid-19 briefing on January 27. Photo: screenshot, via RTHK.

Chuang said the city confirmed 12 untraceable cases on Thursday, five of whom were students. One of the unlinked cases, an 18-year-old student who studied in Kowloon City and lived in Kowloon Bay, was believed to be carrying the Delta variant.

Of the city’s 30-odd unlinked cases, three of four were suspected to be carrying the Delta variant, while most were related to Omicron, Chuang said.

As of Thursday, the city has detected 13,795 cases while the death number stood at 213.

Kwai Chung Estate lockdowns to be lifted

Lockdowns on three buildings in Kwai Chung Estate will not be extended, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said during a press conference on Thursday evening.

Residents at Yat Kwai House will be allowed to leave on Friday morning, while the lockdowns for Ying Kwai House and Ha Kwai House will be lifted on Saturday.

Residents would still be required to undergo compulsory testing after the restrictions were lifted, but some testing centres would accept deep throat saliva specimens.

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

In the earlier briefing, Tsui said the number of cases at Kwai Chung Estate had slowly been decreasing.

In Yat Kwai House, where the lockdown initially began, Tsui said they only detected new cases from six units of the building on Thursday.

Case numbers in in Ying Kwai House and Ha Kwai House were also dropping, from their respective peaks of 33 and nine, to three and zero on Thursday.

Social distancing measures extended

Lam also announced that current social distancing measures – including the ban on dine-in services after 6 p.m. – will be extended until February 17. The suspension of face-to-face teaching in schools will be extended until February 21.

The government plans to implement a “vaccine pass” next month, requiring patrons of certain premises to have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to enter. Lam said the list of venues that applied to would be expanded.

An elderly receiving Covid-19 vaccine. File Photo: GovHK.

When asked whether the introduction of “vaccine pass” was equivalent to compulsory vaccination, the chief executive said there was a difference, as the expansion of listed premises only limits the choices available to the unvaccinated.

“The consequence follows the choice,” said Lam.

62 units evacuated at Cheung Bor House

The CHP announced that residents of 62 units of Cheung Bor House in Choi Wan (I) Estate had to be evacuated after 22 people and one security guard tested positive or preliminary positive for the coronavirus.

Government advisory microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung inspected the building on Thursday afternoon and suspected that horizontal and vertical transmission of Covid-19 had occurred.

All of Choi Wan (I) Estate’s security staff were also required to undergo compulsory testing as the guard suspected to be the infection source had dined in the estate’s security control room.

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Peter Lee

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.