Hong Kong Tells U.S. Consulate to Test Staff After Two Cases
(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong required all staff from the U.S. consulate in the city to take Covid-19 tests after two workers there were found to be infected with the virus and admitted to the hospital for isolation and treatment.
All visitors to the premises from March 2 to 15 are also required to take nucleic acid tests, the government said. The two staff members who tested positive are married, and the one whose infection is of unknown origin is a 41-year-old woman who was asymptomatic and last went to work on March 12, the government said Tuesday.
Hong Kong is clamping down hard following an outbreak that began last week at a gym popular with expatriates in the busy west island neighborhood of Sai Ying Pun. Hundreds of people, including children and babies, have been sent into isolation at quarantine facilities where conditions are austere.
Compulsory testing was carried out at several residential buildings in the Central and Western districts for the third evening in a row on Monday. The cluster linked to the gym, Ursus Fitness, is the city’s second-biggest of the pandemic, with 127 cases as of Tuesday after five more were confirmed.
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Hong Kong, with 11,329 cases and 203 deaths since the start of the pandemic, is stepping up its vaccination campaign to cover more of its 7.5 million population. From Tuesday, domestic helpers and anyone aged 30 or over became eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. Students from the age of 16 can also sign up for inoculations if they study overseas. About 5.5 million people in the city are now eligible.
People were able to book vaccination appointments from Tuesday morning on a government website, which showed a sharp uptake in reservations at centers on Hong Kong Island, but less demand in Kowloon and the New Territories.
Hong Kong began its vaccination drive on Feb. 26, but hesitancy over vaccines has meant only around 200,000 people have got their first dose, accounting for just 5.4% of the eligible groups prior to Tuesday’s expansion. Authorities said virus-curbing rules would only be relaxed if vaccination rates increase.
The government has reported seven deaths after inoculating over 160,000 people with Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s vaccine, but none are directly related to the China-made shot, a panel of experts said at a briefing Monday. The Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine is also available to Hong Kong residents.
The government said the U.S. Consulate has been fully cooperative following the infections of its staff. The consulate said Monday it was addressing concerns about hospitalization procedures and quarantine, particularly regarding the possible separation of children from parents, with the highest levels of the Hong Kong government.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam played down concerns about children being separated from parents, saying at a briefing Tuesday that measures were being applied equally, regardless of age or race. Children of consulate staff were being allowed to accompany parents to the hospital because of “exceptional” family circumstances, she said. One of the children has already tested positive, she added.
“We are a compassionate government,” Lam said.
Hong Kong authorities reiterated that people should maintain strict personal hygiene and avoid social contact and dining out.
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