Social-distancing measures that limit public gatherings in Hong Kong to two people and ban restaurant dining-in services between 6pm and 5am will be extended, sources say, as the city recorded another six Covid-19 deaths – the most in one day – and reported 125 new cases.
The rule requiring the wearing of masks in public would also continue, a government source told the Post on Saturday, the 11th straight day with triple-digit increases in coronavirus cases.
Earlier, the city’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, had apologised for the inconvenience caused by a full-day ban on restaurant dine-in services, which lasted just 48 hours.
It is understood Lam held a meeting with the government’s expert panel of four infectious disease specialists on Saturday to discuss the coronavirus situation.
The social-distancing measures, originally scheduled to run until this Tuesday, would be extended as the city had recently seen more than 100 new cases each day, the source said.
The length of the extension would be announced by the government.
All but one of Saturday’s cases were locally transmitted, including 45 without a known origin. The imported infection involved a returnee from Britain.
The Hospital Authority confirmed six more elderly coronavirus patients had died, three of them care home residents. The city’s official infection tally stood at 3,396 with 33 related deaths.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, said 62 new cases involved the virus spreading among families and friends.
“We also observed some extended family clusters, for example, the grandparents, children or the aunties, because they have had some family gatherings during weekends as usual,” she said.
“So I think we may have to stop this practice for one or two weeks, to maintain the social distancing … especially if we want to protect the elderly.”
Asked about an announcement by mainland Chinese health authorities that 60 clinical technicians would come to Hong Kong to help carry out mass Covid-19 testing, with seven arriving on Sunday, Chuang said she had only read about the plan in the news.
“I don’t have the detailed arrangements on who, how and when about the mainland officials for the testing,” she said, adding that more tests would help find hidden virus carriers, describing is as good for public health.
Some existing clusters saw more infections on Saturday, with another three linked to a slaughterhouse in Sheung Shui. Seven more were tied to Star Global, a direct-selling store at Yee On Court on Argyle Street, taking the infections there to 17.
Chuang said the group involved many women in their 20 and 30s who had lots of social activities, so contact tracing might involve more than 100 people. More than 20 people took part in a training day and participants did not wear masks during most of the activities, she added.
In Tuen Mun Hospital, an 81-year-old patient who had been in an accident and emergency ward later tested positive for Covid-19. Two other patients and two cleaners have been classified as close contacts.
Dr Sara Ho Yuen-ha, the Hospital Authority’s chief manager for patient safety and risk management, said a doctor in the internal medicine department of Caritas Medical Centre tested preliminary positive for the virus.
He felt unwell on Saturday morning after a family member was confirmed with Covid-19 a day earlier. His work involved contact with patients such as diagnosis and check-ups, Ho said, but he had worn surgical masks and observed good hand hygiene.
A cashier at Queen Mary Hospital also tested preliminary positive, but the authorities said she had limited contact with the public as she worked behind a plastic partition.
All of the latest fatalities were elderly residents who suffered from chronic illness. One was a 79-year-old man who was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Monday with a cough. He died shortly before midnight on Friday.
Another was an 89-year-old resident of Cornwall Elderly’s Home (Golden Branch) in Tuen Mun. She was sent to Tuen Mun Hospital last Sunday with fever, and died at 12.20am on Saturday.
Late on Saturday, a 90-year-old patient from the home also died in hospital, the third resident to be killed by Covid-19. At least 37 infections have been linked to the home.
Another fatality was a 86-year-old patient who was a resident of the coronavirus-hit Kong Tai Care for the Aged Centre Limited. His death, at Queen Mary Hospital, was the eighth linked to the cluster, which has 45 infections to date.
At Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan a 79-year-old patient died from the disease. The sixth death was of a 92-year-old patient.
An 88-year-old patient with chronic illness who died on Saturday had tested preliminary positive for the virus. He was admitted to United Christian Hospital on Friday night after experiencing shortness of breath.
Meanwhile, Carrie Lam apologised on Saturday morning for the trouble caused by the government’s full-day ban on dine-in services in restaurants, which was introduced on Wednesday but in a U-turn reduced to the ongoing nighttime ban by Friday.
“I admit we haven’t balanced well in considering public health, tolerance of the business sectors and public needs,” Lam told a radio programme. “That led to the scenes that happened on July 29, the first day when [the ban] came into effect. We are very sorry about that.”
Workers resorted to having lunch outdoors under the rain and heat on Wednesday, while a man was seen kneeling down for a meal.
“Those who were affected were the grass roots, especially construction workers,” she said, adding that the government decided to change the measure on Thursday morning after realising the problems.
Numbers don‘t lie. Politicians do.