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Prepare for community outbreak, official warns

2020-02-02 HKT 17:51
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  • Prepare for community outbreak, official warns
Health authorities on Sunday urged around 130 passengers who were on the same cruise ship as an elderly man confirmed to be infected with the Wuhan virus to come forward, as they acknowledged that this is now the second case of someone potentially having caught the new coronavirus here in Hong Kong.

The 80 year-old man had been on the cruise ship with family members from January 20-25 from Yokohama, Japan, and is reported to have gone swimming during the voyage.

However, officials said family members reported that he did not appear to have had any especially close contact with other passengers, though they caution that anything he may have touched, coughed, or sneezed on, could potentially pass on the disease to others.

They say 130 of the ships 2,407 passengers disembarked in Hong Kong on January 25 together with the infected patient, including 86 Hong Kong residents.

However, they only have the names of these passengers and not their contact information, and are appealing on them to come forward if they suspect they may have come into close contact with the man, or feel ill.

Depending on the situation, the head of communicable diseases at the Centre for Health Protection, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, said they may either have to be monitored, or quarantined outright.

She also reported that the man had not been to Wuhan – the epicentre or the outbreak – and besides his trip to Japan had only been to Shenzhen for several hours on January 10 to buy train tickets – meaning authorities do not have any good idea of how he may have gotten infected, and opens the possibility that he could have gotten the disease in Hong Kong.

A 75 year-old man who was confirmed to be Hong Kong’s 12th case of the novel coronavirus also had not been to Hubei province before falling ill.

“It’s not 100 percent that they were infected in Hong Kong”, Chuang said. “But we are very worried.”

“People need to be mentally prepared for the possibility that this virus is now being spread in the community, and must take the necessary precautions such as washing hands often”, she said.

Authorities later said another woman was confirmed to be infected with the virus, bringing the number of cases here to 15. Another patient has tested positive, but authorities are waiting for results of a confirmatory test.

Hong Kong has not reported any deaths yet, but one patient – a 68 year-old woman – is in a critical condition and is breathing with the assistance of a ventilator. Two other infected patients are in a serious condition.

Chuang said authorities have been ordering more tests to try to find infected people as quickly as possible, saying around 500 tests were completed in one day on Saturday.

Asked whether closing off the border to mainland travellers would help stave off the possible spread of the disease, Chuang said “Any measures to reduce the flow of people – inbound or outbound, or even locals – may help. But it wouldn’t absolutely stop the spread [of the virus].”

Experts have been warning that any local transmission of the new coronavirus would mark a new and far more dangerous stage in the outbreak, as it would be far more difficult to stop people from getting infected.

Previous cases all involved people who had been to Hubei province before falling ill.

A top expert, Yuen Kwok-yung, had warned earlier on Sunday that Hong Kong “could become another Wuhan” if local transmissions are confirmed, saying border restrictions must be ramped up to reduce the flow of people from the mainland.

However, the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has repeatedly insisted that a ‘full border closure’ is unwarranted, and discriminatory against mainlanders, noting that the World Health Organisation has said travel bans ‘unnecessarily’ hurts trade and travel.

Last updated: 2020-02-02 HKT 21:41