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A 38-year-old woman was confirmed as having contracted the virus, at United Christian Hospital. Photo: Dickson Lee

Coronavirus: officer becomes 69th case in Hong Kong after attending party with 59 others, all of whom have been asked to avoid public

  • The officer was at a party on February 18 with about 59 others, who will all need to be quarantined
  • Separately, a 75-year-old is thought to have contracted the pathogen and recovered , but not before passing on to others

A policeman has become the first officer to contract the deadly coronavirus in Hong Kong, taking the city’s total of infected patients to 69.

That came as health chiefs on Thursday listed their first official “probable” infected patient, adding an elderly man to their list of confirmed cases despite him never testing positive for the virus, which causes the disease Covid-19. A source said the 75-year-old was thought to have contracted the pathogen and recovered on his own, but not before passing it on to at least three relatives.

Sources said the police officer, who lives at Yau Mei Court in Yau Tong, was confirmed as infected at United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong.

The Post was told the 48-year-old – the first policeman to be infected – had been to a farewell banquet for a colleague on February 18 attended by about 60 people, who would all need to be quarantined.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung (left) on Wednesday said the coronavirus outbreak situation in Hong Kong was under control. Photo: Dickson Lee

The officer is attached to the patrol sub-unit of North Point Police Station, and assigned to the tier-three platoon of the Hong Kong Island regional response contingent, which consists of 40 officers, who could now be treated as close contacts.

His wife and mother-in-law also showed symptoms of infection, and had been taken to hospital.

Yau Mei Court is near Domain Mall, where a woman confirmed as infected earlier on Thursday works as a cashier in the Super Super Congee & Noodle shop. The 38-year-old lives at Hiu Lai Court, Kwun Tong, and was also confirmed with the virus at United Christian Hospital.

Earlier in the day, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection said the 75-year-old man newly listed as “patient 66”, the husband of a woman already confirmed as infected, had unclear lung scans and could have had pneumonia recently.

“Based on the epidemiological and clinical condition, we consider him a highly suspicious probable case,” Chuang said.

The man’s daughter was also infected, along with his son-in-law, an engineer who lives in Ming Kung Mansion, Taikoo Shing, and was the city’s 57th case.

A medical source said it was possible the 75-year-old “was infected, had a mild disease, recovered, but transmitted the disease to his wife, daughter and son-in-law”.

Chuang said the man and his friends went to Zhangmutou in Guangdong province, mainland China, repeatedly during his incubation period, and that authorities there would be notified. He had eaten at a Chinese restaurant on Sam Shing Estate, Tuen Mun, every morning until his wife had a fall and was hospitalised on February 14, before being diagnosed as infected.

A taxi driver was also confirmed as infected. The 58-year-old had had a fever for two weeks and was sent to North District Hospital after he fainted, Chuang said.

Also on Thursday, the city government extended work-from-home arrangements for civil servants to March 1. In a press statement, it said the extension was to “reduce social contacts and the risk of the spread of the novel coronavirus in the community”.

Emergency and essential public services, as well as basic and limited-scale ones, would continue. Government departments would prepare for the gradual resumption of normal services, and announce separately their latest service details as soon as possible, it said.

Meanwhile, the management office of the International Finance Centre issued a memo to tenants saying a Longchamp shop in the building would be closed for disinfection.

That came after a sales worker’s parents – patients 64 and 65 – were confirmed to have contracted the virus.

“The staff member is asymptomatic, tested negative for novel coronavirus, and has been arranged for quarantine for 14 days,” the memo read.

Cleaning would also be done in the building’s common areas, it added.

What you need to know and how to protect yourself against Covid-19 disease

A top microbiologist said the city was not yet out of the woods in tackling the deadly outbreak. Dr Ho Pak-leung from the University of Hong Kong said the outbreak of the pathogen, which causes the disease Covid-19, could get out of control.

He told a radio programme that the epidemic would be considered under control only when no new infections emerged for at least two weeks – the length of the virus’s incubation period.

“[The epidemic] is definitely not under control. We even worry it will go out of control in some areas,” he said.

A day earlier, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung drew fire for his comments during a Legislative Council special meeting that “the situation is under control”.
Dr Ho Pak-leung from the University of Hong Kong says the epidemic will be considered as reined in only when no new infection will emerge for at least two weeks at a stretch. Photo: Nora Tam

Reacting to the minister’s comments, Ho said: “If he said something wrong, he should admit it and clarify.”

Cheung denied allegations from lawmakers that the city was slow in reacting to the epidemic.

At the Wednesday meeting, legislators vented their frustrations at the government’s handling of the public health crisis. Pro-establishment member Alice Mak Mei-kuen said the government had failed to instil confidence in the public.

“The public is panic buying rice and toilet paper, and an official from another city said we were idiots,” said Mak, of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions.

Ho on Thursday joined the chorus of criticism, saying the government still had not woken up to the crisis.

On Thursday, the chief secretary’s office released a statement which said the government had been closely monitoring the situation. 

“Guided by the three key principles of responding promptly, staying alert to the situation and working in an open and transparent manner, we have responded comprehensively with decisive and appropriate measures in accordance with the advice and opinions of our experts,” the statement read.

Separately, the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a “Level 1” travel alert for Hong Kong after another patient died from the disease on Wednesday.

It advised visitors to avoid contact with sick people and wash their hands often, to stave off the virus.

Hubei province in mainland China, the epicentre of the outbreak, has a “Level 4” warning, which means no one should travel there, while the rest of mainland China has a “Level 3” alert, advising visitors to avoid non-essential travel.

In a press release published in the small hours on Friday, police said the infected officer was engaged in riot control work in Eastern District.

The force added that the officer was present at a meal gathering at a restaurant in Western District along with 59 others on February 18, when he began to show symptoms.

Those 59 officers have been classified as close contacts and will be quarantined. Thirty-six of them were on duty in the Aberdeen division on Thursday night, while the other 23 were stationed in different police districts on Hong Kong Island and the Crime Commercial Bureau.

All of them have been asked to avoid having contacts with the public and to go back home to wait for quarantine arrangements.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: New HK infectionsprove situation is ‘not under control’