An infectious disease expert on Sunday urged the authorities to plug existing loopholes in its border control measures – especially for transit passengers – amid a surge in the number of imported coronavirus cases in Hong Kong.
Dr Leung Chi-chiu, a specialist in respiratory medicine, said as international travel and transit services resume in different countries, it is getting increasingly difficult to monitor exactly which countries people had travelled to before flying in to the SAR.
His comments come after local health authorities on Sunday said 19 out of 23 newly-confirmed Covid-19 cases were imported from abroad– the highest single-day figure in this category since 25 infections were recorded on July 26.
Meanwhile, Cathay Dragon said on Sunday that it would be halting all flights from Kuala Lumpur after five passengers who transited to Hong Kong from India via the Malaysian city tested positive for coronavirus.
Currently, air travellers from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States are required to present documentary proof that they had tested negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours before boarding flights to Hong Kong.
They must also have a hotel booking for at least 14 days here where they are supposed to stay in quarantine before venturing out.
But Leung noted that some travellers from high-risk countries might escape this scrutiny merely by transiting to a lower-risk destination before flying to Hong Kong.
“We still need to work out a good system internationally so that for all flights bound for Hong Kong, they probably have to check all passengers for their previous areas visited within 14 days to avoid people coming from high-risk areas going through low-risk countries and then come to Hong Kong without any testing,” he said.
Even when people play by the rules and get a negative Covid test before coming here, Leung said, that’s no guarantee that they don’t actually have the virus – pointing to a number of cases where such travellers have subsequently been found to be infected.
He said authorities must keep the number of imported cases down, as they are an additional burden to the city’s healthcare system.
Leung said another possible weakness in Hong Kong’s Covid defences that needed to be addressed is the current policy of allowing some people from high-risk countries like the UK to self-isolate at home when the return to the SAR.
He explained that if these people had Covid-19, they could easily infect their family members due to the city’s crowded living environment. The family members could then spread the virus into the general community, he said.