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'HK now facing highest risk of sustained outbreak'

2020-03-20 HKT 14:57
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  • 'HK now facing highest risk of sustained outbreak'
Richard Pyne reports
University of Hong Kong researchers warned on Friday that the city is at its highest risk of a sustained local outbreak since the coronavirus epidemic began, saying many people seem to be dropping their guard.

The researchers, from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, said the rate of infection in the city – an average of how many people get infected from a person who tests positive for the virus – has gone up above one in recent days.

The centre’s founding director, Professor Gabriel Leung, warned of “serious consequences” if there are more cluster infections.

“This is the worst time to relax because we’re at the highest risk since this began. It is absolutely critical especially as we have this influx of Hong Kong returnees starting from a few days ago and continuing for the next few days. We must be extra vigilant,” he said.

Leung said the situation before March 15 was “reassuring”, when the infection rate was was below one.

He said they had noticed a relaxation in people’s behaviour regarding the virus. He compared two photos which showed there were significantly more people in Central last Friday night than in early March.

A survey they conducted also found fewer people were “avoiding crowded places” and “staying at home as much as possible” in recent weeks.

Leung said businesses might consider shortening hours and restricting access to facilitate social distancing, while measures should be taken to protect elderly people and foreign domestic helpers.

Hong Kong has so far reported 208 Covid-19 cases. Ninety-seven of the patients have been discharged, while four have died.

Health authorities said more than 90 percent of cases in the past two weeks involved people who had travelled outside Hong Kong, or were close contacts of people who had been overseas.

But they also warned that the popular entertainment area of Lan Kwai Fong has been to linked to as many as five recent cases.

A top health official on Thursday appealed to the public to stop gathering to eat at restaurants or drink at bars if they want to protect themselves.