Seven more patients in Hong Kong have been infected with the deadly coronavirus, taking the city’s tally to 49.
The Centre for Health Protection’s Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said on Tuesday one of the new cases was connected to a shared family hotpot meal during Lunar New Year while three more were related to the 42nd case, a woman who lives at Hong Mei House in Tsing Yi’s Cheung Hong Estate.
The woman’s son and his wife, who stayed with her, as well as the son’s father-in-law, were all infected.
“They had some gatherings and activities during Lunar New Year, but no travel history,” Chuang said.
Three other cases concerning a 59-year-old church employee who worked in Siu Sai Wan, a 71-year-old man who lived in Po Lam Estate and a 66-year-old Tuen Mun resident, were not connected to previous clusters.
Fulum Group confirmed on Tuesday that a member of its staff at Sportful Garden Restaurant in Wan Chai had been diagnosed with the coronavirus after sharing the new year hotpot meal with family on January 26.
The group said its Wan Chai restaurant had undergone cleaning and disinfection on Monday. It would be closed for 14 days while all staff had also been asked to self-quarantine for two weeks.
A source said the employee involved was a 52-year-old man working in the dim sum department. He went to work as usual between January 27 and February 8 for 11 days but he wore a mask at work.
The source added that the employee told his supervisor on February 8 he needed to see a doctor, and did not return to work from February 9. Other members of staff working at the restaurant had not shown any symptoms by Tuesday morning, the source added.
The family cluster was first revealed after a 24-year-old man was confirmed with the virus. He attended a hotpot meal with 16 local and two mainland Chinese relatives on January 26, the second day of Lunar New Year.
The Centre for Health Protection said the 52-year-old is an uncle of the 24-year-old and had developed a cough, sore throat and dry mouth since February 8. He was admitted to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan.
Dr Wong Ka-hing, controller of the Centre for Health Protection said among the residents evacuated from the residential block in Tsing Yi, five had shown symptoms but tested negative for the virus in hospital.
The rest were still being quarantined at government facilities, Wong said.
University of Hong Kong microbiologist Professor Yuen Kwok-yung said further investigation revealed the ventilating pipe inside the flat of the 42nd patient had been modified and was not properly sealed.
“People need not panic, we are not in an Amoy Gardens situation,” Yuen said, referring to a Ngau Tau Kok housing estate which suffered a rapid spread of the Sars virus through its drainage system in 2003.
He said people could check for leaks from the drainage system by turning on their exhaust fans and testing whether their toilets gave off an unpleasant smell.
Yuen said other flats in the building were being checked for similar modifications or unsealed piping.
If the fault was unique to just one flat, Yuen said the quarantined residents might be allowed to go home in a few days after they were tested again for the virus.
“They may be able to return home for Valentine’s Day, that’s the best case scenario,” Yuen said.
He said the number of local cases was expected to rise, as the chain of transmission within the city had yet to be cut after the virus was brought across the border.
“It would have been better if the passenger flow had been minimised earlier, but I believe the government faced difficulties,” he said. “We should not point fingers at each other or attack each other. We will win the battle if we are united.”
Yuen added that the city was now in a containment phase with the situation much better than the Sars outbreak in 2003, describing the incident in Hong Mei House as “absolutely under control”.
He again called for social distancing, adding that those showing symptoms should wear masks at home to reduce the risk of transmission among family members.
Referring to the mask shortage, Yuen suggested there were innovative solutions such as DIY masks and to sterilise used masks with ozone generators so they could be worn again.
“All this innovation can only come because of our love for Hong Kong,” he said.
During the press conference, Luk stressed residents were not allowed to alter their drainage systems and pipes, and that the department would contact the residents of flat 307 and request them to have the toilet reinstated.
The government said on Monday that two locals under a 14-day mandatory quarantine had absconded from their confinement and that police were looking for them. Police had no updates on the case on Tuesday.
According to Steve Luk Hing-Chuen, assistant director of Housing Department, the ventilating pipe in the Tsing Yi flat was cut off and not properly sealed, after the toilet seat had been replaced in the past.
Building inspectors have since sealed the cut and disinfected the flat, he said.
The 59-year-old man who initially tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday evening at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital is a member of staff at the Jubilant Grace Methodist Church, at Wesley College in Siu Sai Wan, according to Eastern district councillor Phoenix Tsang Yan-ying.
A Wesley College employee said the secondary school would be closed for one week and had been undergoing disinfection.
Most staff had not returned to the school as classes have been suspended until March 2 at the earliest.
According to the Hospital Authority, among all cases recorded to date, four patients with the virus were in critical condition, two were deemed serious and the rest were stable.
It said 117 people were still in isolation in public hospitals.
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