Hooks for meal deliveries hanging at the doors of a Tsim Sha Tsui quarantine hotel could be the culprit for the transmission of the South African Covid-19 variant among three residents, health authorities say.
Genetic sequencing found the SAR's first case of a community-acquired mutant infection to have carried both the N501Y and E484K strains, meaning an Indian engineer was infected by the 60 to 70 percent more infectious variant first discovered in South Africa.
The man, who was out and about for eight days before being confirmed with Covid
, had stayed on the same floor in the Ramada Hong Kong Grand on Austin Road as two others under isolation also found with the variant: a 34-year-old Indonesian woman and a 28-year-old Filipino.
The Centre for Health Protection's head of communicable disease branch, Chuang Shuk-kwan, said yesterday that whole genome sequencing found the three of them's source of infection to be highly similar, pointing to possible cross-infection.
The engineer stayed in a room adjacent to the Filipino while the Indonesian stayed further away near the end of the corridor.
"Since inspections found the air and drainage pipes to be normal, and guests did not come into contact with one another, the only possibility lies with the S-shaped hook used to hang meal boxes on the door handles," she said.
"Staffers may have touched the hook in the distribution and collection process, and carried the virus to other hooks."
Authorities have asked the group and all other designated quarantine hotels to stop using them for meal distribution.
"It'd be more ideal to put chairs outside each room and place food boxes on them," Chuang said. "But they should still be disinfected after each use."
Government adviser David Hui Shu-cheong said people who have been infected with Covid
-19 could fall ill again with the variant.
The Chinese University respiratory expert said: "The variant is much more transmissible, but it doesn't mean it would cause serious infections. Carriers can be asymptomatic and undetectable unless they are tested."
He warned the variant could cause serious community outbreaks.
Although he admitted vaccines
available here - the Beijing-made CoronaVac by Sinovac and German-made Comirnaty by BioNTech
/Fosun - have less protection against mutant strains, he still called upon citizens to receive the jabs for protection.