11 in family stricken after sharing hotpot

Top News | Jane Cheung 10 Feb 2020

A hotpot Lunar New Year dinner of 19 Hong Kong and mainland relatives at Lento Party Room in Kwun Tong landed the family in hot water after 11 were initially confirmed with the deadly Wuhan virus.

A 24-year-old man and his grandmother in her 90s were confirmed with the 2019-nCoV yesterday, days after the hotpot and barbecue dinner, taking the city's total to 29, with one death.

But the number may further increase to 39 as nine others who attended the celebration on the second day of the Lunar New Year on January 26 have reported being sick, with seven tested "preliminary positive" to the Wuhan virus and results pending for the remaining two.

Sources said the possible 39th, a 69-year-old man who is in critical condition in Pamela Youde Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan, has also been tested "preliminary positive."

Doctors say people may get infected due to droplet and touch transmission as they sit close to each other while having hot pot, instead of getting the virus from the soup or steam.

Infectious disease expert Ho Pak-leung from the University of Hong Kong said there is no scientific evidence that the virus can be spread via steam and called for citizens not to panic over unsubstantiated theories.

"I believe the virus originated from the two mainland relatives," he said. "In Chinese tradition, it's common for you to shake hands when you meet someone, in particular a Lunar New Year gathering, when senior members will give out red packets," he said. "They were having barbecue and hotpot, meaning they were not wearing masks. I believe the patients got the virus when they ate without washing hands."

But the head of the Centre for Health Protection's communicable disease branch, Chuang Shuk-kwan, said citizens should avoid all gatherings as chatting and sharing meals pose high risks of spreading the virus.

"Even if citizens are to have gatherings, they should keep them as short as possible," she said.

Chuang admitted it is hard to prevent a community outbreak of the virus as many people showed mild or even no symptoms but could spread it to someone else.

"Some patients appear to have got influenza. It's becoming harder to isolate and trace all suspected cases," she said.

"Current policies may not be able to effectively curb community transmission, but we hope to delay it."

Chuang said the big family gathering case came to light when the 24-year-old man of the family was confirmed with the virus at Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai yesterday morning, after having a fever and cough since January 30.

When tracing his contract history, the man said he had a barbecue and hotpot with 18 relatives for three hours at Lento Party Room in Kwun Tong, prompting officers to contact those who attended the gathering and collect their respiratory specimens for tests.

Officers found his grandmother was admitted to the internal medicine ward of Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital on February 1 with fever and a swollen right leg but was subsequently discharged.

They took her nose specimen to test and it was positive for the coronavirus, she said.

Chuang said among those who attended the family event, two were relatives from Guangdong province, who returned to the mainland on January 28 and 29.

"One of them had mild cough. Having been notified of relatives in Hong Kong being tested positive for the virus, he went to a mainland hospital to test for the virus too and results are still pending," she said.

"At this point we are not sure which person is the source of the virus, or whether the virus was spread from the two mainland relatives," she said, adding that the six remaining guests at the gathering would be put under isolation.

The third confirmed case (the first and second are the 24-year-old man and his grandmother) is a 70-year-old man who had no travel history in the past month.

He was admitted to the United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong on Saturday after coughing since January 30.

Despite the man going to the mainland on January 9, Chuang said two weeks passed before he fell sick, indicating he could be another case of local transmission.

The Hospital Authority's chief manager for quality and standards, Lau Ka-hin, said among 29 confirmed cases, three women, aged 64 to 68, are in critical condition and a 58-year-old man is serious. The remaining 24 are stable.

The hotpot case has prompted some restaurants to stop offering the winter favorite, with some shops saying they would consider checking the temperature of customers.

Just before the Lunar New Year holiday, hotpot chain Haidilao announced closure of its 550 branches to prevent the virus from further spreading.

The National Health Commission said yesterday droplets and touch remain major transmission channels, and that transmission via aerosol and feces have yet to be verified.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

More reports: Pages 3, 5 & 6;

Editorial: Don't benchmark new virus against SARS

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