Captain infected in budding ferry cluster

Top News | Jane Cheung 11 Jan 2021

A ferry captain responsible for three routes, including Central to Lamma Island's Yung Shue Wan and Peng Chau, has been confirmed with Covid-19.

Three other sailors also tested preliminary positive, while more than 100 crewmen at Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry must get tested.

Hong Kong yesterday recorded 31 new cases in 20 males and 11 females - ages seven to 80 - taking the tally to 9,243 infections, including 158 deaths.

Apart from three imported cases from Turkey, Germany and Brazil, all were local cases comprising nine from unknown sources and 19 linked to previous infections.

Head of Centre for Health Protection's communicable disease branch, Chuang Shuk-kwan, said one of the unknown-source patients was the 59-year-old ferry captain. He helms the Central-Peng Chau and Central-Yung Shue Wan routes and a worker shuttle ferry between Tsuen Wan and the construction site at Hong Kong International Airport's third runway.

"Four sailors including the captain work on a ferry at a time. Even when the ferry is docked, the workers stay on board to rest, eat and do repair work," she said.

Ferry passengers are not required to be tested but can if they want.

"The four infected sailors know one another and sometimes work on the same ferry, but it wasn't always [the case] ... we need to examine their roster to see how many staff will be sent to quarantine."

Chuang said the priority would be testing all sailors at the company to see if there are asymptomatic carriers.

She also said the cluster at Central Kowloon Route construction site saw six more workers test positive, taking the cluster's total to seven.

Of the preliminary positive patients, one is a 46-year-old female carer at Yi Wo Yuen Aged Sanitorium Centre (Hung Hom), who worked night shifts on the second floor. It prompted authorities to send all 31 residents and 15 staff on the floor to a quarantine center.

"There were fewer staff working night shifts so she had to take care of all residents on that floor," Chuang said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Doctors Union president Henry Yeung Chiu-fat expects vaccinations to start after the Lunar New Year next month, adding that 1.3 million people can receive jabs at the government's inoculation centers in a month.

Yeung said community vaccination centers will be set up in 18 districts. And the government will provide venues and hardware and recruit medics to help with the vaccination, he added. Each center is expected to cater to 2,500 people every day.

Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said each vaccination center will operate for at least six months, while outreach teams will be arranged to vaccinate people at elderly and disabled homes.

"Private hospitals and clinics can also join the vaccination program," Nip said, adding public hospitals and clinics will also be responsible for administering shots.

He said the government will pay administration fees for private doctors but they will be banned from charging recipients.

Nip said authorities will study the feasibility of relaxing quarantine and social distancing measures on those who have received vaccination.

"After taking the jabs, infection risks are lowered. If by a large extent, stringent measures may not be necessary ... But it does not mean the government is trying to lure people into taking part in mass [vaccination]," he said.

The Hospital Authority has agreed to make ex-gratia payments to medical staff infected with Covid-19 during work. "We will provide necessary assistance to our colleagues, including financial help," the authority's chief manager for clinical effectiveness and technology management, Linda Yu Wai-ling, said.

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