Local cases of Covid-19 with no known source of transmission rose over the first three days of the Lunar New Year. Meanwhile, authorities have warned that Hong Kong could start seeing infections in the hundreds.

The city recorded 142 Covid-19 cases on Thursday, among which 31 were locally transmitted cases with unknown epidemiological origins – a record high during the fifth wave. The unlinked infections were spread across different districts including on Hong Kong Island, in Kowloon and the New Territories.

tai po virus testing
Authorities carried out mandatory Covid-19 testing in parts of Tai Po on February 3, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

“Many have mild or no symptoms. We believe that there are a lot of transmission chains and cases in the community that we haven’t found,” Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of the Centre of Health Protection’s Communicable Disease Branch, said at a press conference on Thursday.

Authorities confirmed 22 and 30 unlinked cases on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

“From what we have seen abroad, the high transmissibility of Omicron can lead to an exponential rise in cases,” Chuang said. “We are quite concerned about the possibility of seeing more and more cases, even in the hundreds. It could be a burden to Hong Kong’s medical facilities.”

Hong Kong is in the midst of a fifth wave of the coronavirus, which began in late December when a Cathay Pacific flight attendant broke quarantine rules to eat dinner at a restaurant in Kowloon Tong’s Festival Walk.

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

Cases have ballooned since then, involving clusters at restaurants, residential buildings and schools. Kwai Chung Estate – which became the epicentre of the outbreak in late January after an infected cleaner is suspected to have spread the virus – has recorded 447 cases alone following days-long lockdowns and daily testing.

In the recent seven-day period from last Friday to Thursday, an average of 113.4 cases were reported per day, official data showed.

Gov’t mulls new restrictions

In a press release published late on Thursday, the government said Hong Kong is seeing onslaughts of both Omicron and the “more lethal Delta mutant strain.”

“Recently, an unvaccinated person who was infected with the Delta mutant strain turned critically ill and needed admission to the intensive care unit. With Hong Kong facing the threat of both mutant strains, the outlook for epidemic development is not optimistic,” the statement read.

The government also announced that it will expand work-from-home arrangements for civil servants, with employees to work remotely unless they are involved in anti-epidemic efforts.

The statement added that the government will “closely monitor the epidemic development” and “consider further tightening of social distancing measures,” such as regulations relating to the closure of premises and restrictions on group gatherings.

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Staff members register residents in Tai Po for a Covid-19 test on February 3, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

At the peak of Hong Kong’s third Covid-19 wave in 2020, authorities slashed the number of people allowed to gather in groups to two. The government also ordered a blanket ban on restaurant dine-in services in July that year, but rolled back the restrictions after photos went viral of people eating their lunch on roadsides and parks in the rain.

Long queues at Covid-19 testing stations

With scores of premises and housing blocks coming under compulsory Covid-19 testing orders over Lunar New Year, long queues snaked across the city as people lined up at testing stations.

In Tai Wai, hundreds of residents living in nearby apartments that had recorded unlinked infections queued outside a sports centre that had been converted to a testing station on Thursday. Shopping malls and office blocks in neighbouring Sha Tin were also placed under a mandatory testing order after sewage samples returned positive for Covid-19.

tai wai covid test
Residents in Tai Wai wait in line for a Covid-19 test on February 3, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

Authorities are working to enhance testing capabilities, the government said.

In an interview on Tuesday, the chief executive of the Hospital Authority Tony Ko warned of a “tsunami” of Covid-19 outbreaks that could follow the Lunar New Year holiday.

Hong Kong has recorded 14,584 Covid-19 cases, and 213 related deaths, since the pandemic began two years ago.

The city is expected to add an all-time high of over 200 infections on Friday, local media reported.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.