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Several flats in Tai Po estate evacuated

2020-03-14 HKT 21:45
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  • Several flats in Tai Po estate evacuated
  • A minibus collects residents being evacuated. Photo: RTHK
    A minibus collects residents being evacuated. Photo: RTHK
The government on Saturday evening decided to evacuate residents of at least a dozen apartments and test residents of several more in a Tai Po public housing block after a man got infected with the coronavirus a few days after a couple living at the same building came down with Covid-19.

Centre for Health Protection authorities are now looking at the possibility that the droplets with the virus may have spread to some upper floors through air that came up through a venting pipe that ended on the rooftop. These droplets then got dispersed by wind into some apartments, they suspect.

The latest patient lives on the 34th floor of Heng Tai House, two floors above the couple, who got infected following a trip to Egypt earlier this month. They all live at units ending with number 13.

As the man on the 34th floor has a back problem and mostly stayed at home, authorities figured that he was infected at home.

After inspecting the building, microbiologist Professor Yuen Kwok-yung of the University of Hong Kong said it’s possible that the tiny droplets with the virus were carried by the air from the sewage of the family living on the 32nd floor. It may have gone up through venting pipe to the rooftop and led to the infection of the resident living on the 34th, the topmost floor of the building, he said.

“There’s a possibility that when the patient on the 32nd floor is defecating, we know now the faecal materials actually contain the virus … while he’s defecating, the faecal materials go into the sewage system," he said.

“There’s a vent of air come through the venting pipe, go to the top floor, and then maybe being aerosolised in the air and then the droplet tried to settle.”

“But while at the same time, when there’s a light wind blowing, there’s what we call the wake effect in which the air current going over the rooftop carry the particles back into the top floors,” he said.

He said the situation was different from that happened at another public housing block in Tsing Yi in February, when a resident living on a higher floor came down with the infection, followed by another who lives below him.

The authorities said residents living at units 13 and 14 between 29th and 34th floors would be sent to a quarantine centre straightaway. They did not give an exact number of people involved.

The authorities said they will also conduct checks to see if there are sewage pipe leakages in apartments below due to alterations done by residents themselves.

Because of this, the centre decided to test residents of units 13 and 14 living at all 34 floors of the building for the new coronavirus.

They also said if anyone in these apartments falls ill on Saturday night, they will be hospitalised immediately. The test for virus is to begin on Sunday morning.

Dr Wong Ka-hing, head of the Centre for Health Protection and Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the centre’s Communicable Disease Branch were at the scene along with Yeun to inspect the flats. They spent more than one hour inspecting the flats of the Covid-19 patients before meeting the Fu Heng Estate’s management.

The affected residents were moved out by late on Saturday.
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Last updated: 2020-03-14 HKT 11:40