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Resume working from home and close bars, says expert

2020-11-23 HKT 10:21
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  • Prominent epidemiologist Benjamin Cowling calls for tighter social-distancing measures. File photo: RTHK
    Prominent epidemiologist Benjamin Cowling calls for tighter social-distancing measures. File photo: RTHK
Professor Benjamin Cowling speaks to RTHK's Janice Wong
A top infectious disease expert says the government should close bars, karaokes, gyms and other indoor leisure facilities as Hong Kong braves a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections.

Professor Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist with the University of Hong Kong's School of Public Health, said the latest dance studio cluster is a common super-spreading event which has likely already led to infections that are not yet recognised.

He said he expects the number of new cases to go up in the next two weeks, probably up to 200 per day, because even if the government imposes stricter social-distancing measures now, it will take time to show effects.

“Whatever we do now, we can’t really change what is going to happen in the next one or two weeks, because those infections have already occurred, we just haven’t found out about them yet,” he told RTHK’s Hong Kong Today programme on Monday.

The government has announced the closure of nurseries and kindergartens and the suspension of classes for primary one to three. But Cowling said it’s more sensible to close leisure facilities like bars and gyms.

“I don’t think the school closures will have much effect. They may do something, but younger children are not the most vulnerable for Covid anyway and we haven’t seen school outbreaks before in Hong Kong,” he said.

“I think we need to look back at what worked in the second wave and third wave – which was working-at-home policies, and also closure of bars, karaokes, leisure facilities, gyms, so on, and maybe tighter restrictions in restaurants,” he added.

Cowling explained that it is because evidence around the world has shown the coronavirus doesn’t spread as quickly outdoor as it does at indoor venues where large groups of people gather.

He also said he understands the rationale behind the government’s latest plan to give out HK$5,000 for anyone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Cowling said his research team noticed from the third wave of outbreak that there is reluctance among low-income workers to seek testing because they could not afford to be away from work for too long.

He said he’s not too worried about abuse “because Covid is not a particularly nice infection to have, for some people at least”, but said he hoped the government will explain more about how the scheme works.