Hong Kong reported 26 new COVID-19 infections on Friday, the highest in nearly three months as the government suspended on-site classes for Primary One to Three pupils for two weeks, starting Monday.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said Hong Kong was seeing a "rapid deterioration" as 21 of Friday's fresh infections were locally contracted and new patients belonged to various clusters across the city, including those with a connection to dance clubs, hotel staycations and taxi drivers.
The city also recorded more than 40 preliminarily positive cases.
Warning of a sweeping fourth wave of local infections, Chan said the government will push ahead as soon as possible with mandatory testing for people suspected to have symptoms other than elderly care center employees and taxi drivers. "We have probably entered a new wave of infections," said Chan, who urged members of the public to avoid unnecessary gatherings.
The government is considering providing a one-off subsidy to help the grassroots who test positive under the mandatory testing arrangement, Chan said.
It will also study the need to re-impose stricter social distancing rules, including closing entertainment venues, which Chan said is inevitable if the situation continues to worsen.
Chan also announced that the suspension of kindergarten classes, first announced following an outbreak of upper respiratory tract infections, will be extended for two weeks.
Of the 21 new local cases, nine were untraced and 12 were linked to previous patients, Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection said at another briefing.
Nine of the new cases were linked to the Starlight Dance Club cluster, a day after a 75-year-old businesswoman was confirmed as infected, Chuang said. There were also seven people, who tested preliminarily positive, found to have visited the dance club in Wan Chai. Most of the patients visited the club between Nov 12 and 14.
Three housewives were among the nine untraced cases reported on Friday. They lived at Pacific Palisades in North Point, Lee Man Building in Mong Kok and Hoi Pa San Tsuen in Tsuen Wan, respectively. One of them attended a birthday party involving some 100 people in Tsim Sha Tsui on Monday.
The other six untraced cases involved a 63-year-old male taxi driver who lived at Po Lam Estate in Tseung Kwan O, a 27-year-old male steel fixer who worked at a construction site in Yuen Long, a 42-year-old woman who lived at Crowne Plaza in Tseung Kwan O, a 61-year-old female security guard who worked at Greenwood Garden in Sha Tin, a 49-year-old man who lived at Laguna City in Lam Tin and worked at Tai King Industrial Building in San Po Kong, as well as a 73-year-old man who lived at Shan King Estate in Tuen Mun.
Among the five imported cases, two were from India while one each from Pakistan, Romania and the United Kingdom, Chuang said.
The city's total number of infections stood at 5,517, with 108 related deaths.
In view of the latest development of the COVID-19 epidemic, the Civil Service Bureau on Friday reminded bureaus and departments to handle work arrangements for employees with flexibility provided that the provision of public services would be maintained.
The bureau said it had issued guidelines to bureaus and departments reminding them to consider taking flexible measures to reduce the number of staff in the office at any one time.
Yuen Kwok-yung, chair professor of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, said the city's fourth wave of coronavirus might have started already. He attributed the latest spike in cases to imported infections from Nepal.
Yuen, who advises the government on the pandemic, suggested the suspension of all flights from high-risk regions and adding one week of home quarantine for inbound travelers following the completion of a 14-day isolation at hotels.
Copyright: China Daily/Asia News Network