Up to 250 crew members a day arrive without quarantineLocal | Staff reporters 28 Jul 2020
Up to 250 seamen have been arriving in Hong Kong per day, a source said, though authorities have rushed to tighten restrictions starting tomorrow.
According to immigration statistics, only around 100 visitors entered the SAR on Sunday, but the figure did not include crewmen, whose arrivals been between 100 to 250 per day, a source has told The Standard.
The number was revealed amid criticisms that the government failed to plug the quarantine loophole in crewmen.
More than 290,000 travelers, including sea and air crew, have been exempted from the mandatory 14-day arrival quarantine since it was made compulsory in February.
But starting tomorrow, there will be a ban on crew rotation in the city except for vessels bringing daily goods into the city, the government announced on Sunday.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said at a press conference yesterday that around 10,000 seamen had visited the city between early February and last Tuesday.
He pointed out that more than 90 percent of cargo in Hong Kong arrives by sea, including hand sanitizers, face masks, tissue papers, food and other necessities.
Asked why the government did not tighten the exemption arrangements earlier, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said that Hong Kong relies on importation of food.
"We don't want the pandemic to affect our food supply, so it's a measure of striking balance," he said.
Cheung also said there have been appeals in the international community regarding seafarers who have been stuck at sea due to the pandemic, so the exemption was based on humanitarian grounds.
Also yesterday, DNA sequencing research by the Polytechnic University showed that the latest wave of local Covid-19 infections could have been imported from overseas.
Gilman Siu Kit-man from the department of health and informatics said a pattern of genetic mutation has been found in local infections, similar to those of cases imported from South Asian and Central Asian countries such as the Philippines and Kazakhstan.
"The mutated virus had arrived in the city from these places before their DNA sequencing turned relatively stable and spread to the community," he said.
Siu said the virus DNA in the four patients who lived in Leighton Hill was almost identical to that of a 42-year-old pilot from Kazakhstan, who resided in Crowne Plaza Hotel in the same district.
"The DNA sequencing of both cases has proved to be extremely similar," he said.
But he noted that the virus DNA in the patients in Leighton Hill was slightly different from 19 others patients, including those from Tsz Wan Shan - the hot spot for the latest wave of infections - Shui Chuen O Estate in Sha Tin, the North Point education center cluster and the Tuen Mun restaurant cluster.