Covid Outbreak Hits Banks, Gyms, Schools in Hong Kong

A coronavirus outbreak at a Hong Kong gym has spread to international schools and other fitness centers, while positive cases also appeared in the banking community just as the city was emerging from a prolonged round of social restrictions and venue closures.

The flareup is linked to a 27-year-old trainer from Ursus Fitness, a gym in Hong Kong’s Sai Ying Pun neighborhood popular with expatriates. There are at least 17 confirmed cases and 30 preliminary cases connected to the gym, the government said Thursday. More than 240 people visited the venue between March 1 and 9, it said.

The new cluster is another blow to a city that has endured multiple waves of the virus. Venues ranging from gyms to beauty parlors were only allowed to reopen on Feb. 18, after being closed for over two months, while restrictions on restaurant operating hours were eased. Bars and beaches remain closed.

The government may consider tightening curbs again, Under Secretary for Food and Health Chui Tak-yi said at a briefing Thursday.

At least three schools have been closed, just weeks after the government allowed in-person teaching to resume for the first time since late November.

Kennedy School, which belongs to the English Schools Foundation group of international schools, said in an email to parents Thursday that it would close its campus due to a positive Covid case connected to Ursus Fitness. Kellett School also closed its Pokfulam campus due to a case linked to the gym.

The French International School closed its campus in Tseung Kwan O, but didn’t say if the move was tied to the Ursus outbreak. At least one teacher at the French school was infected, Department of Health official Chuang Shuk-kwan said at Thursday’s briefing. Carmel School closed two campuses for deep cleaning as a precautionary measure, it said.

A BNP Paribas SA spokeswoman said one of the bank’s Hong Kong employees tested positive and that staffers who sat near the person will work from home for 14 days. HSBC Holdings Plc vacated one floor of its main building for deep cleaning after an employee tested preliminary positive, according to a memo to staff. The bank said only critical employees should work from the office until further notice. An HSBC spokeswoman confirmed the contents of the memo.

Credit Suisse Group AG asked some staff to work from home after an employee tested positive, according to a person familiar with the matter. Several Citigroup Inc. employees are also working from home as a precaution, a person familiar said. Both banks declined to comment.

Among other gyms, H-Kore fitness center closed its studios after one of its trainers tested positive, according to a post on its Facebook page. The company said it contacted clients who had attended class with the trainer and advised them to get tested. An employee at Soho Active gym in the Soho House private members’ club in Sheung Wan also tested positive. Co-workers who’d been in direct contact were told to quarantine at home for 14 days.

With new daily cases in the low double-digits or less for weeks, banks and other companies had gradually eased work-from-home policies as social-distancing rules were relaxed. Some increased the percentage of employees allowed back in offices, while others used a split-team approach.

Hong Kong has only had a total of about 11,000 cases, but its quarantine measures are among the strictest in the world. Close contacts of positive cases must enter centralized surveillance facilities for two weeks, and residents entering from outside of China have to spend 21 days in designated hotels.

At an earnings briefing for Hong Kong conglomerate Swire Pacific Ltd. on Thursday, a spokeswoman said Chairman Merlin Swire was attending remotely and self-isolating out of caution after coming into contact with a potential close contact of a confirmed case. She didn’t elaborate.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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