Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Saturday extended a five-day Covid lockdown to a second block at Kwai Chung Estate, imposed new single-day lockdowns on four neighbouring buildings, and ordered mandatory tests for residents of 13 other blocks as authorities scramble to contain a rapidly growing cluster of Omicron infections in the district.
The outbreak had first started at Yat Kwai House – where around 100 people have tested positive, and quickly spread to Ying Kwai House, where around ten people are thought to have been infected as of early Saturday evening.
Both buildings will be locked down for five days, affecting some 2,700 residents.
Authorities will deliver food to those affected, though Lam acknowledged that deliveries to Ying Kwai House can only commence on Sunday, given the tight timeframe.
A resident of Chin Kwai House – which is located across the street from the two affected buildings – also tested preliminary positive on Saturday night, prompting authorities to impose a one-day lockdown on the building, along with three other blocks that are adjacent to Yat Kwai House and Ying Kwai House.
Residents of the remaining 11 buildings at Kwai Chung Estate, meanwhile, will have to undergo mandatory tests, as will people who live in two blocks at nearby Kwai Fuk Court.
In all, more than 35,000 people will have to be tested.
Lam said testing capacity in the district will treble from 10,000 to 30,000 per day by Sunday, and expressed confidence that this will be adequate to handle the large-scale operation.
Housing minister Frank Chan said more sample collection points may be added if long queues emerge, and residents will be asked to go back home and return later to keep the numbers down.
Lam appealed on all affected residents to stay at home, and avoid going to work if possible, saying this could endanger vulnerable groups like the unvaccinated elderly.
She also said all Hong Kong people should avoid unnecessary gatherings.
Asked whether the government could have acted faster, Lam said officials had responded as quickly as possible, adding that anti-epidemic work is “not an exact science” and the authorities are striving to do their best and to improve their performance every time.
The CE also said no compensation would be considered at this point for people affected by the lockdowns, saying they are among a much larger group of individuals and businesses that have been affected by Hong Kong's fight against Covid.
“They are making the sacrifice in order to contribute to the anti-epidemic efforts of Hong Kong and I’m extremely grateful to all those people who have been adversely affected as a result of these measures,” Lam said.
However, she stressed that the outbreak does not mean that Hong Kong’s ‘zero-Covid’ strategy is untenable, saying that this approach does not necessarily mean there cannot be a single Covid case in the community.
“The important thing is under our strategy, we strengthen our capacity to tackle these episodic outbreaks in order to suppress the spread of the variant as soon as possible so that there will not be a massive community outbreak in Hong Kong,” she stressed.
Given Hong Kong’s relatively low vaccination rate – with 77.5 percent of the population having had at least one jab compared with over 90 percent in the mainland and in Singapore, Lam said the territory cannot afford a different approach.
“The alternative to this type of strategy will be the so-called ‘living with the virus’ – in other words we open our borders, we have no social distancing measures… you don’t even have to wear your mask”, she said.
“In my view, Hong Kong does not possess the prerequisites for going that approach.”
Lam added that while the science says Omicron causes less severe illness compared with other Covid variants, it still causes fatalities.
“If the elderly get infected, the consequences are very, very serious", she warned.
Last updated: 2022-01-22 HKT 19:13