ECONOMY

Babies Among Hundreds in Hong Kong Quarantine Amid Outbreak

Hong Kong sent hundreds of people, including a playgroup of infants, into quarantine and locked down more residential areas as it tried to contain a coronavirus outbreak that began in a gym near the city center last week.

The number of confirmed cases linked to the outbreak has spiked to 109 since the first infection was reported on March 10 at Ursus Fitness in Sai Ying Pun, a gym popular with expatriates. About 750 close contacts of people infected have been quarantined, the Health Department said at a press conference on Sunday.

A group of eight 11- to 18-month-old babies and their caregivers were among those quarantined, according to parents. The measure was taken after the children attended a music playgroup last week, and a parent was later confirmed positive in connection to the gym cluster.

The moves are an escalation in a campaign that’s also seen dozens of offices conducting mandatory testing of staff and several expensive international schools halting in-person classes again. While Hong Kong’s had bigger flareups, none have hit so close to home for many expats. Government buses have been deployed to take people to isolation facilities away from the city center.

Hong Kong reported 24 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, 10 of which are linked to the gym. Compulsory testing was ordered at 90 residential locations and 60 work sites, the department said. At least seven schools have been closed because of the flareup.

Kylie Davies-Worley, a mother in quarantine with her husband and 15-month-old son, said conditions at the center may be bearable for adults, but “it’s just really not equipped for children.”

“The menu is definitely not baby appropriate — no designated baby food at all,” she said. “He literally will be living on snacks for the next 10 days.”

Hospital Authority Chief Manager Linda Yu said at Sunday’s press conference she needs more information on the quarantined infants before she can comment.

Davies-Worley said her room at Penny’s Bay on Lantau Island has two single beds, a foldable table and small bathroom. There is a television and one kettle, but no fridge and they had to bring their own cot for the baby, she said.

“The disease has an incubation period of 14 days. We need to observe for at least one more week to know if the gym cluster is under control,” the Health Department’s Albert Au said at the press conference. “There are also secondary transmissions at schools and workplaces, we will closely monitor.”

Among residential areas locked down Sunday for Covid testing were buildings near Ursus Fitness on Pok Fu Lam Road and Dynasty Court in Mid-Levels. Two preliminary positive cases were found at Dynasty Court as of midnight, and the lockdown of five blocks at the high-end residential development was lifted at 8:40 a.m. Monday.

As of 2 a.m. Monday, 680 residents in Pok Fu Lam Road buildings had been tested and no confirmed Covid-19 cases found, the government said in a statement. Another lockdown on Saturday night covered four buildings in Mid-Levels. That ended early Sunday with no positive cases.

The government also said Sunday that some students and staff at the Harbour School in Ap Lei Chau would be sent to government quarantine facilities after two confirmed cases and one preliminary case were found among school members. The students are between eight and 10 years old, the school said.

Hong Kong has one of the strictest quarantine regimes in the world, requiring all who’ve had close contact with infected people to enter mandatory isolation for up to two weeks. The quarantining of children comes despite studies showing that younger children in particular don’t tend to be the main drivers of transmission within households and communities. Children under 10 also may be less susceptible to infection.

Offices housing UBS Group AG, Chanel Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Standard Chartered Plc are included on the list of buildings where people are subject to compulsory testing orders. Morgan Stanley’s office appeared on the list Monday.

Several banks last week advised staff last week to not come into offices. HSBC Holdings Plc vacated a floor of its main building Thursday after an employee tested preliminary positive, according to a memo to staff. UBS told some staff to work from home after an employee tested positive, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. reverted to a policy of 50% of staff working from home.​

The outbreak also affected legal firms, with Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith Freehills both closing their offices after employees tested positive. Clifford Chance asked staff to work remotely out of an “abundance of caution.”

Sophia Chan, Secretary for Food and Health, wrote in her blog on Sunday that the government is considering expanding vaccine priority groups to satisfy demand. Hong Kong began its public vaccination campaign at the end of February, prioritizing people aged 60 and older, health-care staff and other essential workers. Last week, it expanded its priority groups to cover 3.7 million people, about half the population, adding those in high-risk contact positions like teachers, public transportation drivers and restaurant workers.

Covid vaccination rates in Hong Kong have slowed amid concern over side effects from Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s shot, with reports of at least six deaths among the more than 150,000 people inoculated. None of the deaths have been linked to the Chinese company’s vaccine, but they’ve added to hesitancy about getting inoculated. The no-show rate for people who made appointments to get Sinovac immunizations rose to as high as 30%.

“Although experts have pointed out some serious adverse events recently are not linked to the vaccines, I understand some residents are worried,” said Chan. “If you have doubts on your health conditions, you can consult with doctors before receiving the vaccines.”

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