Yesterday, a family of nine in Hong Kong were found to be infected with the deadly coronavirus after sharing a hotpot and barbecue meal.
Together with this, there are now 10 additional confirmed cases reported within the city. It started with two family members taken ill, only to be followed by the seven others.
Those initially infected were, a 24-year-old man and his grandmother, in her 90’s. Then, later in the evening, seven members of the family showed preliminarily positive results for the disease, Hong Kong health authorities said.
Among others in the young man’s family are his parents, two aunts and three cousins. Their ages range from 22 to 68.
Hong Kong health officials say that the family was celebrating their Lunar New Year holiday at the end of January.
Meanwhile, in a separate incident, a 70-year-old man who spent most of his time at home and had not traveled out of Hong Kong since January 9 was confirmed to have the virus.
At the city of Wuhan, claimed to be the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, some 40,171 are positive carriers of the virus. The death toll now stands at 908. Whereas in Hong Kong, there are 36 confirmed cases to date.
Hong Kong health authorities are facing major difficulties in tracing possible virus carriers as some might only show mild flu-like symptoms at an early stage.
With the increasing number of cases, Hong Kong hospital authorities which run the city’s public health facilities, say they would drastically adjust non-urgent services in the coming four weeks.
Head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, explained that there are major difficulties faced in trying to isolate the suspected cases and tracing those who had close contacts with confirmed patients.
This is in light of the nine new cases which arose from a family gathering on 19 January at the Lento Party Room in Kwun Tong. The South China Morning Post adds that 19 people had joined the dinner, including two relatives from mainland China who left the city at the end of last month.
The two relatives had sought medical attention across the border. One of them, tested negative for the coronavirus, while the other is awaiting test results.
Dr Chuang urges the public to minimize gatherings to curb the spread of the virus. He cautioned citizens not to share the same chopsticks with those they dine with.
Dr Joseph Tsang Kay-yan, an infectious diseases expert in Hong Kong, warned that the infection among family members will continue to rise because the Hong Kong authorities did not close the border as stringently as Macau.
He reaffirmed the statement made by the Centre for Health Protection which prompts citizens to look after their own health by reducing social contact and care about personal hygiene.
Currently, in Macau, those who had visited the Hubei province in the past fortnight must provide a medical certificate proving they did not exhibit any symptoms before entering the city. Casinos, along with 18 other types of premises including bars, cinemas and massage parlors, were also forced to close for 15 days earlier this month.
Overall, as a result of the 14-day mandatory quarantine scheme, the number of people entering Hong Kong has dropped sharply.
Since Saturday to 7pm on Sunday, 918 people were put under mandatory quarantine, which includes 814 Hong Kong residents.
Despite experiencing a drastic drop in numbers, critics question the nature of the quarantine, as it relies too much on people staying at home or in their hotels. In terms of monitoring, there is nothing much done by the health authorities aside from the random checks conducted by the police.
However, those who enter from Macau are not required to go into quarantine.
A respiratory medicine expert from Chinese University, Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, said it was too early to conclude that Hong Kong had edged closer to a community outbreak with the new cases. He explained that the outbreak identified is traced only to a family gathering where people had close contact.
Meanwhile, an adviser to Hong Kong’s leader on the Executive Council, Dr Lam Ching-choi urged residents not to oppose plans for designated quarantine zones and clinics. He clarified that residents are safe in terms of their residential location as quarantine sites are reasonably far away from residential areas and that is sufficient to stop the virus from spreading.
He added that everyone should have faith in science as experts are doing their best to combat the virus outbreak.