Faced with record numbers of coronavirus infections, the government is “proactively considering” more restrictive social distancing measures, while hospitals are expecting more Covid-19 patients. Additionally, dozens of freight trucks were delayed at Hong Kong’s border after two drivers tested positive for the virus in mainland China, causing the prices of vegetables in the city to surge.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said during an RTHK radio interview on Monday that the bureau has put forward recommendations to the city’s leadership to “reduce the flow of people” . The measures were expected to be discussed at the Executive Council’s routine meeting on Tuesday, after which they might be announced, Chan said.

Sophia Chan. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Rapidly rising case numbers – including hundreds with untraceable sources of infection – and an increasing number of buildings with sewage samples that tested positive for Covid-19 showed the virus had begun its “exponential growth”, Chan said. An even steeper increase in infection figures is expected after the Lunar New Year holidays, when many gathered with friends and families.

Chan also said that the first phase of the Penny’s Bay quarantine facility had been cleared out and would be ready to house Covid-19 patients who are younger, had mild symptoms or who were fully vaccinated.

A queue for a Covid-19 test in Lei Tung, Sha Tin, on February 5, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Close contacts of patients will quarantine at home using tracking wristbands paired with the StayHomeSafe app, a tool used during the early months of the pandemic but which was retired after home quarantine measures for inbound travellers were scrapped.

Hospital triage

The city’s public hospitals were expecting to field more Covid-19 patients who may have first tested positive using rapid antigen self-testing kits, Hospital Authority Chief Manager Lau Ka-hin said during an interview on Commercial Radio Monday morning.

Longer waits at accident and emergency rooms at public hospitals, where dedicated triage arrangements for Covid-19 patients have been set up, should be expected, Lau said.

Patients who tested positive using self-testing kits should head to a hospital for a more reliable nucleic acid test, while those who received preliminary positive results through community testing centres should stay at home to await further instructions and should not travel to a hospital on their own, Lau said.

Rapid antigen tests, which can be taken at home, give a result in roughly 15 minutes but can be quite unreliable, especially during the incubation phase of the virus. The results of nucleic acid tests are considered much more reliable.

Price surge in vegetables

Residents should also brace for more expensive vegetables after more than 60 cross-border freight drivers were barred from leaving a quarantine hotel at Hong Kong’s border with mainland China until they tested negative for Covid-19 on Sunday. Two truck drivers tested positive for Covid-19 last Friday and Saturday.

Photo: GovHK.

As a result, the Man Kam To Control Point was temporarily closed twice over the weekend, leading to delays in deliveries. Between 70 and 80 trucks were not able to cross in to Hong Kong, President of the Hong Kong Imported Vegetable Wholesale Merchants Association Yuen Cheong said during an interview on RTHK on Monday morning.

Consumers could expect up to 20 per cent price increases for certain vegetables on Monday, Yuen said, as wet market sellers were not able to fully restock.

As of noon on Monday, the city has confirmed 15,408 positive Covid-19 cases, while the number of deaths stands at 213.

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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.