Hong Kong’s daily number of Covid-19 infections fell below 800 for the first time in nine weeks on Saturday, as the health chief warned the government might expand the use of rapid tests to cover more high-risk areas and crowded events. But Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee also sought to reassure the public that the government was well prepared for any possible rebound in infections in the wake of next week’s easing of social-distancing rules. “If there are more relaxations in the future and we want to do it safely, I think [rapid testing] is a way out,” she told a radio programme. ‘Covid rebound possible after Hong Kong eases curbs, but unlikely to be worrying’ Health authorities on Saturday reported 794 cases and 41 Covid-19-linked deaths, including seven backlogged ones. As the fifth wave of infections continues to decline, the government is preparing to launch the first phase of a three-stage easing of social-distancing rules on Thursday, including an extension of dine-in hours for restaurants and the reopening of premises such as gyms, sports venues and cinemas. But officials will step up screening requirements to guard against increased transmission risks. The health minister said noted rapid antigen tests (RAT) were already being used at care homes for the elderly and screenings would be implemented for schools and local tour groups. “There will be more reassurance if the test is required for other large-scale activities in the future,” Chan said. Local tours will also be allowed to resume operations, accommodating a maximum of 30 patrons per trip, if all staff have received three doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and conducted rapid testing on the same day as the activity. “If all tour participants have conducted RAT on the same day before the commencement of local group tour activities, the relevant restriction on the number of participants will be relaxed to 100 persons,” the government said. But Chan added that she was “very worried” about a rebound in coronavirus cases during the Easter holiday and called for residents to avoid crowded places. “We have not relaxed [social-distancing measures] in this [Easter break], but we see lots of people going out,” she said, adding that the increase in residents venturing outside could be “fatal” to containment efforts. Despite her concerns, the health minister said the government was confident in its ability to handle a surge in case numbers. “We have built up a lot of capacity in terms of our designated hospitals, our isolation facilities and community isolation facilities. So we are confident that if we have a rebound, we are able to cope with the situation,” Chan said. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, conceded infection numbers could jump after social-distancing measures were eased. “We can all expect some volatility or a slight rebound in cases as social-distancing measures are eased,” she said. Health authorities had not yet decided how they would define the start of a sixth wave of infections, Chuang admitted, but Hospital Authority chief manager Larry Lee Lap-yip said they would establish a plan to respond to the surge, should it arise. The city currently had 11,500 public hospital beds for Covid-19 patients and another 1,000 beds at community quarantine facilities managed by the authorities, he said, adding that as of Saturday, roughly 8,200 patients were being treated. “I believe in the preparation of the sixth wave, the remaining capacity will be an important part,” he said. Meanwhile, primary and international schools are expected to resume in-person classes on a half-day basis from Tuesday, but all teachers and students must undergo daily rapid testing before heading to campus. Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung told another radio programme that his bureau was gathering information from schools about how many students were already inoculated, as well as past and future dates for vaccination services. According to government data, about 97 per cent of residents aged 12 to 19 had taken at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while only 63 per cent of those aged three to 11 had received their first jab. The resumption of in-person classes could also make it easier for teachers to contact students and parents to allay any concerns over safety and boost the vaccination rate, he said. On Saturday, Dr Patrick Ip Pak-keung, president of the Hong Kong Paediatric Society, urged parents to ensure their children were inoculated against the coronavirus. If unvaccinated children became infected, they could take longer to recover and faced a higher chance of suffering from multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), he said. The condition causes inflammation of the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs, among others. “We have recently found that among the children who have recovered from Covid-19, the vaccinated ones rarely had this syndrome,” he said. “But for those who haven’t been inoculated, an increasing number of them have suffered from MIS-C, which will attack their different systems.” Can Hong Kong become a hub for traditional Chinese medicine? Ip said the syndrome only occurred among children three to four weeks after they had recovered from the coronavirus. “They got worse rapidly with almost all of them requiring intensive care at hospitals,” he said. “We have almost two to three such new cases every day now and there is a high chance of having more deaths among children.” Last week, a preliminary analysis by health experts found that Covid-19 had been a direct cause of death in at least three of the eight child fatalities recorded in the city’s fifth wave of infections. The city’s overall tally of infections since the pandemic began stood at 1,197,078, with 9,110 related fatalities.