Government admits health risks in book fair

Local | 11 Jul 2020 1:50 pm

Health chief Sophia Chan Siu-chee said the book fair next week would carry health risks of Covid-19. 
Earlier this week, more than 200 exhibitors had urged the postponement or suspension of the annual event – scheduled to open next Wednesday, due to the sudden surge of local cases in the past week. 

Health authorities have confirmed 38 new Covid-19 cases yesterday. Among the 32 locally transmitted cases, 11 patients live at the same public housing estate in Sha Tin while nine other cases spread across the territory with unknown sources of infection.

Chan said any large-scale activity including the book fair would carry inherent risk, but organizers would have to take all necessary precautions if they decide to press on the event scheduled to be held from July 15 to 21. 

“If there are gatherings that need to be held, they must have infection control measures, the people flow must be very carefully orchestrated, and social-distancing should be practiced in order to minimize the risk,” the Secretary for Health said after taking part in a radio program this morning.

She described the spike in local Covid-19 cases within a short period of time was “worrying”, but assured that the government has been closely monitoring the situation on a daily basis. 

“This is very worrying, but I think we have experience in handling it, be it contact-tracing, testing, quarantining and isolation,” she said. 

The recent surge of domestic cases has sparked fears of a third-wave infection in the SAR, and raised questions over the book fair. 

The Chinese University's microbiologist David Hui Shu-cheong, also a member of the government's expert committee, said large-scale gatherings like the book fair would make transmission easier and increase the difficulty of tracking who's affected. 

He added canceling the exhibition would be an “ideal move” to curb the sudden outbreak. If not, organizers should control the number of visitors and request them to wear a face mask in the venue.

The book fair's organizers announced last month they would put in extra safety measures like asking visitors to cleanse their hands after flicking through books, requiring guests to wear face masks and offering promotions for visitors at night to keep the venue more spaced out. 

Meanwhile, the health minister said health authorities would be arranging virus testing for staffers in all local elderly care homes, after a recent infection cluster was linked to the Kong Tai elderly center in Chi Wan Shan, where 28 residents and four staffers were infected. Visitors are banned from entering elderly care homes.

When asked about work from home plans for civil servants, Chan said the current infection control measures target only on certain social groups, such as schools that were asked to start the summer holidays on next Monday. 

She did not rule out the possibility of other social distancing measures if necessary. 

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