Hong Kong Outbreak Ensnares Expats With Hundreds Quarantined
Alarm spread among Hong Kong’s business and expatriate community as a coronavirus outbreak linked to a gym widened and hundreds of people including children were told to go to government centers for quarantine that can last 14 days.
The Department of Health reported 47 new cases linked to the gym, Ursus Fitness, on Friday. Seven were connected to staff and their close contacts, while the remaining 40 were customers. Confirmed cases tied to the gym in Sai Ying Pun, a bustling neighborhood on Hong Kong Island, stand at 64.
“We can’t say the outbreak is under control, I can’t predict how bad it will be,” Department of Health official Chuang Shuk-kwan said at a briefing Friday. “We are still tracing the contacts.”
While the cluster is currently smaller than a previous flareup in November linked to dance halls in the city, it has engulfed a tightly-knit world of mostly Western expats who work for global financial institutions and whose children attend international schools with annual fees of HK$250,000 ($32,000) or more. Some campuses were closed because of cases linked to the outbreak.
Several banks advised staff 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. Only key employees should work from the office until further notice, it said. UBS Group AG told some staff to work from home after an employee tested positive. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is reverting to a policy of 50% of staff working from home, a spokesman said.
The outbreak has 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.”
“We hope residents comply with us because the outbreak involves many work places,” Chuang said. “We hope business owners cooperate. If you visited a gym on Hong Kong Island in recent days, please watch your health and be alert.”
More than 240 people visited Ursus between March 1 and 9, according to the government, and they are required to go into quarantine.
Conditions at some quarantine facilities are spartan, with basic meals delivered through slots in doors of cramped rooms that aren’t equipped with WiFi. Some people have taken to expat forums on Facebook to express concern that certain dietary requirements may not be catered to at the centers.
About 1,000 people in total were in quarantine centers in Hong Kong prior to the latest cluster. Photographs of rooms are circulating on social media. One collection shows a room decorated with pictures on the wall and exercise kit on the floor, next to an unfinished jigsaw.
While Hong Kong has had only 11,150 confirmed cases in total, its quarantine measures are among the strictest in the world. Non-residents are banned from the city if they are traveling from outside of mainland China, Taiwan or Macau, and those who are eligible to enter must spend 21 days in isolation at designated hotels. They have to pay for those stays.
The outbreak is a setback for the city just as it was emerging from a winter wave of infections that prompted the government to restrict business operating hours and limit public gatherings. Officials said rules would be tightened again as necessary, denting hopes for a return to normal life and the opening of travel lanes with places such as mainland China and Singapore.
The international schools closures come after in-person classes partly resumed only last month for the first time since November.
|Kennedy School||Closed campus due to positive case connected to Ursus|
|West Island School||School instructed to close for 14 days|
|Kellett School||Closed Pokfulam campus due to case linked to the gym|
|The French International School||Closed Tseung Kwan O campus. A government official said at least one teacher at the school was infected|
|Carmel School||Closed two campuses for deep cleaning out of precaution|
|ISF Academy||Classes suspended for three-day deep cleaning as three staff members considered to be close contacts of confirmed case|
|Harrow International School||Suspending face-to-face classes and activities for two days after a close contact of an infected person was identified|
Other fitness centers were closed due to cases linked to Ursus. H-Kore said it was closing both of its studios until March 21 after one of its trainers attended a class at Ursus on March 5, while another’s husband -- who works at Ursus -- tested positive and was taken to the hospital for treatment.
The wider sports community was also impacted. Hong Kong Rugby Union confirmed that some players at both senior and junior level have been infected and that club activities would be suspended this weekend. A group of girls from an under-12 rugby team was asked to quarantine in government facilities after one of their coaches who attended Ursus tested positive on Wednesday. Hong Kong Football Club canceled weekend training out of precaution, while some activities were also scrapped at the Cricket Club and Yacht Club.
Covid vaccination rates in Hong Kong have slowed amid concern over side effects from Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s shot, with reports of at least four deaths among the more than 140,000 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 30% Thursday from less than 10% last week.
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