Hong Kong braces for human to human transmission within city amidst global coronavirus outbreak

The South China Morning Post reported today that Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a leading microbiologist and infectious diseases expert at the University of Hong Kong, has declared a community outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in Hong Kong.

However, he added that twenty one of the patients found to be infected in Hong Kong had not visited the mainland recently. He explains that the local outbreak has started and a human-to-human transmission was taking place within the city.

Professor Yuen warned every measure must be taken to minimize the spread, including further border closures.

Within the city, six people have been diagnosed with the infectious disease over the past two days, of which five have not left the city recently. From a total of 21 cases reported, eight were believed to have had no travel history relevant to the coronavirus.

“The local transmission chain has begun, and if we do nothing to control it, Hong Kong will become another mainland city that has suffered lots of cases,” he warned.

To date, more than 28,200 people had been diagnosed with coronavirus worldwide, mostly concentrated in the mainland, with death toll rising to 565.

The city of Hong Kong recorded its 21st case yesterday, when a 39-year-old man from Hung Hom became the first new coronavirus patient to die in the city.

Professor Yuen opined that the transmission of the virus has proven to be very efficient, similar to the spread of a seasonal flu.

Referring to his earlier remarks about transmission, he adds, “Many people blamed me earlier for exaggerating [the situation] previously, but what I was based on scientific facts, not personal feelings”.

The professor who advocated closure of border crossings would not comment on whether the government’s latest interventions came too late.

He stressed that as a precaution, tighter restrictions would be good but the government will be faced with difficulties. For the moment, citizens should stop criticizing each other and try to win the battle against the spread of the coronavirus.

Executive Councillor of Hong Kong, Dr Lam Ching-choi said the government was considering asking Hong Kong people to self-quarantine at home. This relates to non-locals and mainlanders, who could quarantine themselves in their own hotel rooms or at government provided facilities.

Whilst these measures could control the spread, government sources admit there might not be enough quarantine facilities available. However, officials are busy accelerating the identification of new locations such as hotels or holiday camps to be used as additional quarantine facilities.

Meanwhile, sources close to the government add that the government’s position is clear that it will not pay for hotel rooms rented by incoming mainland travelers. They would have to bear the cost of extending their hotel stay to the full two weeks.

But for those who have not booked hotel rooms in Hong Kong, the government will place them in quarantine centers.

However, Dr Lam added that cross-border truck drivers would be exempted from the changes to guarantee the continuous food supply and the flow of other goods to Hong Kong.

As a simple and effective safety procedure, Professor Yuen has advised that the public practices good hand washing hygiene and wear a masks wherever they are. And for those without the face coverings, he says, they should avoid going out or keep a “six-tile” distance referring to the pavement on the ground when socializing with people.

As for those under self-quarantine at home, the Professor suggests that all family members should wear masks regardless of whether they had been to the mainland or not. He added that each person should eat in a separate room.

His remarks came a day after Chief Executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s apology for instructing officials to only wear masks in limited circumstances, in a bid to conserve supplies.

The Chief Executive has subsequently clarified that she was only discouraging healthy civil servants from wearing masks, and that the instruction applied to principal officials.

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