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Experts urge widespread virus tests after new case

2020-05-13 HKT 10:22
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  • Dr Ho Pak-leung says one possible source of the new infection was people who returned from overseas and went into home quarantine. File photo: RTHK
    Dr Ho Pak-leung says one possible source of the new infection was people who returned from overseas and went into home quarantine. File photo: RTHK
Health experts on Wednesday urged the government to conduct widespread tests for the coronavirus and take serious steps to track down the source of the latest case as the city reported its first local transmission in weeks.

Sources say two tests on a 66-year-old woman for Covid-19 have come back positive. The woman lives at Lei Muk Shue Estate in Tsuen Wan and did not travel outside Hong Kong recently.

The latest case came after the city went 23 days without a locally acquired infection.

Speaking on an RTHK programme, Dr Ho Pak-leung of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection said the case was worrying. He said social distancing rules cannot now be relaxed further.

The government eased some social distancing regulations on Friday as the coronavirus situation improved.

“We’re talking about human-to-human transmissions. If she didn’t travel outside Hong Kong, it means there must be more than one case locally. We have to track the source of her infection. What I’m worried is whether there’s a cluster of infections behind this case,” he said.

Ho said one possible source of infection was people who returned from overseas and were put under home quarantine.

He said according to information released by the government, 48 people have been put under home quarantine at Lei Muk Shue Estate, three of whom live in the same block as the latest patient. However, he said the government stopped updating the list after March.

“We don’t know if these people went out without wearing masks,” he said.

He criticised the government over the low number of coronavirus tests it is carrying out, saying this fails to track invisible transmission of the disease.

He said Hong Kong could learn from some mainland cities and test all residents living in the same block as a confirmed patient.

“Mainland cities such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen found a lot of asymptomatic patients this way. If you only test close contacts of the patient, you won’t be able to find out invisible transmissions of the disease,” he said.

Echoing calls for much wider testing, the head of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, Yuen Kwok-yung, said experts had urged such a move three months ago.

He said he himself had asked for mass tests, but the government has done nothing so far. He said there should be enough manpower at the Department of Health to increase testing capacity, by rotating the staff on shifts.

Yuen said given Hong Kong has never completely shut its borders, nobody knows if an infection chain was brought in from the mainland or overseas.

He said there's no need to change the plan to reopen schools later this month if the new infection is just an isolated case, but other anti-epidemic measures should not be relaxed regardless.

The professor said he understands that people may find it tough to keep wearing masks during the summer time, but he urged a continuation of this and the maintenance of good hygiene.

One of the government’s expert consultants and a respiratory medicine professor at Chinese University, David Hui, said that even if the new case is confirmed, the current relaxations need not be rolled back immediately.

He said such sporadic cases are expected, but the biggest problem now is to trace the source of the latest infection.

The total number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong stands at 1,047 so far.

Last updated: 2020-05-13 HKT 11:55