Hong Kong imposes four lockdowns for COVID-19 screening

 Tuesday, February 2, 2021 


Four lockdowns imposed in Hong Kong for mandatory COVID-19 screening have so far identified no new infections, with residents testing negative allowed to leave the restricted areas for work early on Tuesday. On Monday, officials restricted buildings in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hung Hom, Yau Ma Tei and Yuen Long and ordered a partial evacuation at a large middle-class Lam Tin housing estate after determining the coronavirus was spreading there via a light shaft in one of its buildings.

On Monday, health authorities also confirmed 34 new COVID-19 cases citywide, three of which emerged in a designated testing zone in Jordan and another in a similar area within Sham Shui Po. Five infections were imported and eight were untraceable. About 20 people tested preliminary-positive. The city’s tally of confirmed cases stood at 10,486, while another elderly resident succumbed to the disease, taking the number of related deaths to 182.

The four lockdowns were officially lifted at about midday on Tuesday after more than 1,600 residents had been tested. According to authorities, more than 100 households could not be reached but residents testing negative for the coronavirus were free to leave the restricted zones from 6.30am for work purposes. Using a mobile testing facility, authorities had hoped to test all residents of Majestic House at 80 Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui by midnight, as well as those in Loong King Mansion at 23-35 Ma Tau Wai Road in Hung Hom and Ho Choi Building at 42-58A On Hing Street in Yuen Long by 2AM Tuesday.

Residents in an area of Yau Ma Tei, bounded by 142-148 and 150-160 Reclamation Street, 59A-59C Public Square Street and 2A Wing Sing Lane, were also barred from leaving while testing was carried out. Authorities had aimed to finish that operation by midnight. The lockdown orders came hours after the city’s chief secretary said the government could issue at least one lockdown operations in a day in various districts to cut transmission chains. All four places have confirmed one infection over the past two weeks.

Authorities previously said they aimed to lift the lockdowns by 7AM on Tuesday. Any residential buildings with a single untraceable case would also be given a compulsory testing notice. New Centre for Health Protection Chief Dr Ronald Lam Man-kin estimated that fewer than 100 people would be affected by the isolation order, which covered just 24 flats, although residents of nearby Block D would be ordered to undergo mandatory testing. Lam reported that over the past two weeks, 12 infections were reported in seven while information from the centre also showed three cases had emerged in Block D.

Residents of Block R were previously ordered to take mandatory virus tests on January 26, and those living on the 18th floor were sent into quarantine after infections were found in at least four of the eight flats there. Lam informed that the percentage of Block R residents already screened was very high, with 536 out of 538 tested, but officials and experts concluded the additional measures were needed after finding structural and design issues with the block.

It was also informed virus particles exhaled by three infected residents living in flat 1805 had entered a 10-metre deep, 2-metre wide light shaft in the centre of the building. The aerosolised particles were then blown back into the corridor and lift waiting area on the same floor, infecting other residents. The health expert said he feared a vertical upwards spread could continue under the “chimney effect” in the shaft, and the prudent evacuation decision was reached as some infected residents could develop symptoms after a previous negative test result.

Earlier on Monday morning, residents of Laguna City, one of Hong Kong’s largest private middle-class housing estates, were disappointed as they rushed to work and school after a surprise overnight lockdown ended 40 minutes later than the scheduled 7AN. The government barred people living in Blocks 5 and 7 of the estate from leaving so testing could be carried out in the fourth such operation initiated by health authorities in the past nine days. No infections were found during the operation, but 15 cases were discovered between January 18 and 29.

Residents queued throughout the night for a second round of testing, and Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee was confronted by angry residents when she arrived for an inspection. Health experts were split over the need for the lockdown, with Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, who advises the government on the pandemic, saying it was justified given that 15 cases was a large number. As of 2AM on Monday, 460 residents had been tested, although officials were unable to contact the occupants of about 60 households despite door-to-door checks. Authorities urged those residents to get in contact as soon as possible for testing.

However, other residents said they agreed with the government action, despite the inconvenience. Three other public housing estates were issued with a mandatory testing order including Tun Man House at Oi Man Estate in Ho Man Tin; Yat Man House at Ho Man Tin Estate; and Block 1 of Ka Lei Lau at Ka Wai Chuen in Hung Hom. Authorities also ordered residents at four private housing estates to undergo screening. At an afternoon press conference, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, Head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, revealed that about 45 to 50 residents, as well as some staff members, at the Salvation Army Nam Shan Residence for Senior Citizens in Sham Shui Po would be quarantined after a resident tested preliminary-positive for the virus.

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