Virus 'out of control': tutorial centers latest breeding grounds as infections soar

Top News | Jane Cheung 13 Jul 2020

The Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong appears out of control, the head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch admitted yesterday.

Chuang Shuk-kwan issued the warning as 38 new cases were confirmed.

And among the 38 cases – 21 males and 17 females aged from seven to 89 – only eight were imported while 30 were locally contracted, including 13 from unknown sources.

That took the SAR’s case count to 1,470, with seven deaths among them.

Two tutorial centers in North Point and Shek Mun and Good Hope Primary School in Ngau Chi Wan have become the latest breeding grounds for Covid-19 on top of recent clusters based on the Kong Tai center for the elderly in Wong Tai Sin, the Pan Kei congee shop in Choi Hung’s Ping Shek Estate and the Sun Fat Restaurant on Jordan’s Man Ying Street.

The number of cases is sure to rise further today as more than 20 people were listed as preliminary positive after tests yesterday.

“We’re worried,” Chuang said. “The situation seems to have gone out of control. Most of the patients are middle-aged and elderly people who … have contracted the coronavirus from unknown sources. 

“But they have been to many places and could have spread the infection to many others.

“We should reduce gatherings and stay at home to see if we can slow down transmission or even stop it. If we lower our guard the number of cases may increase exponentially.” Chuang warned too that quarantine centers may run out of capacity “if we have many new cases. Their close contacts will have nowhere to go.”

And the Hospital Authority’s chief manager for patient safety and risk management, Sara Ho Yuen-ha, said hundreds of second-tier isolation beds have been reopened in addition to some 1,500 first-tier ones to brace for a surge of patients.

Asked if companies should resume work-from-home programs, Chuang said employers should adopt such arrangements if possible.

With what is seen as a third wave of the outbreak emerging last week, shopping malls and restaurants saw significantly fewer customers at the weekend.

Epidemiological expert Gabriel Leung reinforced the point of a rapid spread of Covid-19, with each patient seen to be infecting four more people. 

Leung, who is dean of the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Medicine, said the SAR is now experiencing its first sustained local outbreak, with the “mutated” virus spreading at its fastest pace since it was first detected here as the pandemic unfolded.

“We’ve not had an ongoing, large-scale local outbreak since January,” he said. “Now it’s happening.

“This is the first time I’ve ever said this – it’s really serious.”

On one person passing on the coronavirus to four others, Leung noted that it was one to 2.5-3 when the virus was spreading in Wuhan in Hubei province before the city was locked down in January.

Leung also estimated there are at least 50 to 60 “silent carriers” – people who are asymptomatic but who can pass the virus to friends and families. 

Working from home and social-distancing measures should be resumed, he agreed.

Leung also said Kowloon East and Sha Tin are “high-risk districts,” with many recently diagnosed patients from there.

Among 13 patients who caught the virus from unknown sources, eight live in Kowloon East, including the home ownership estates Hong Wah Court in Lam Tin and Tsz Oi Court in Tsz Wan Shan and public housing estates Choi Fai in Ngau Chi Wan, Shun On in Kwun Tong, Tsz Ching in Tsz Wan Shan and Choi Hung.

Seventeen of yesterday’s cases were related to existing patients, including four men aged 57 to 71 who had been to the Sun Fat Restaurant. Three are taxi drivers, and a 71-year-old driver’s wife was a preliminary positive case.

And three people confirmed with the virus had been to the Pan Kei congee shop, or family members had visited there. A 13-year-old girl from Good Hope Primary School also contracted the virus from a classmate whose father was a confirmed case. 

The girl also passed the virus to her 43-year-old mother, 53-year-old father and a 52-year-old domestic helper.

A seven-year-old boy being tutored at the Saga Learning Center in North Point’s City Garden Shopping Arcade was also confirmed with the coronavirus yesterday. The center’s owner and tutor, 35, tested positive on Friday.

Chuang said about 10 students being tutored by the owner had been sent to quarantine centers.

A tutor from Wiselad Education in Shek Mun also tested as preliminary positive yesterday. His colleagues and students will be quarantined.

Both tutorial centers announced 14-day closures.

Chuang remarked that tutoring is a high-risk activity that involves close contact even if tutors and students keep their masks on.

“Parents should think twice before sending their children to tutoring centers,” she said. “Perhaps they should let kids stay at home during the holiday.”

And Tung Chau Street Park in Sham Shui Po closed its squash and tennis centers after a squash center staffer tested as preliminary positive. 

Additionally, Dim Sum Square in Sheung Wan will be closed for 14 days after its owner, his wife and a chef tested as preliminary positive.

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