22nd March 2020 – (Hong Kong) In addition to the rapid increase in the number of imported cases in Hong Kong, there has been another growing invisible local transmission chain in the community. At least 25 locally confirmed and presumptive cases were recorded in the last 4 days. The ‘patient zero’ has not been identified and those infected include the two who work in Tsuen Wan and on Hollywood Road in Central. Confirmed cases and cluster cases have also occurred in many districts, including 9 people infected during a wedding banquet at Auberge Discovery Bay Hotel and over 8 cases linked to Soho and LKF.
The 182nd case is a 50-year-old woman who works at a Canadian International School. She has no travel record. During the incubation period, she visited Soho and LKF in Central and partied with her friends. Patient no. 191 who attended the wedding reception in Discovery Bay also went to LKF with a friend to party on 13th March. Two other friends have been diagnosed positive. One of them developed symptoms on 13th March, earlier than Case No. 191. Three other COVID-19 infected patients also visited Soho and LKF 9 times in 3 days including Brickhouse, H Code and bars near Ho Lee Commercial Building during the incubation period. 217th, 243rd and 250th cases also visited bars and restaurants in Soho and LKF in Central (Click here for full list) area on multiple days. In addition, 4 more members of Pure Fitness with branches in the LKF and Central district were tested positive while a member of Fitness First branch in Sheung Wan was also diagnosed positive in a preliminary test yesterday.
Since Hongkongers began to return to work in early March, many who work in the Central district have started to socialise again and spent their after-working hours drinking away with friends oblivious to the pandemic. Dr. Gabriel Leung, Dean of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong said this morning that since many patients were not diagnosed immediately and admitted to the hospital for isolation after the onset of illness, if there is a 9-day interval between the onset of the illness and the diagnosis, it is not ruled out that there is already transmission in the community. He suggested that restaurants should consider closing at night, or just offer take-out food, or re-arrange tables and chairs in the restaurant so that diners can sit in the same direction to reduce the chances of infection. If the response to the epidemic still does not work, he said that the government should emulate the UK’s footsteps to close down bars, restaurants, cinemas, fitness centres (4 Pure Fitness members and 1 Fitness First member have been tested positive in HK so far) and other places in the city, but at the same time subsidize 80% of the income of grassroots and provide relief measures for businesses if they are suspended.
Restaurants and bars in the city have been hit hard by a double whammy of protests and COVID-19 pandemic in the last 8 months. Business in the LKF area has dropped over 95% during the recent weekend but there were still around 10-15% of expatriates who continued to mingle and drink in the Soho district on last Friday and yesterday.
Police also joined forces with officers from the Auxiliary Medical Service to conduct spot checks in the vicinity of Lan Kwai Fong yesterday evening, in order to ensure persons under mandatory home quarantine have been abiding by the law. Police initiated prosecution procedures to arrest four persons who violated the home quarantine order and they were sent to Chun Yeung Estate for mandatory quarantine. One of them flouted home quarantine earlier. The situation will worsen if persons under quarantine were found partying in the area.
Centre For Health Protection confirmed that when the 217th case was first infected, she and her two other infected friends visited a bar at 63 Wyndham Street, a bar at 2-4 Shelly Street and H Code at 45, Pottinger Street on 13th March. Restaurants and bars in H Code include Root Central, Pin Wine Restaurant, Birdie, Yakiniku Great Soho, The Chicken Bar, Tree House, NOJO and Kagesha Lounge. We did not specifically conclude which restaurant or bar they visited.
Due to oversight, we accidentally included Le Petite Maison, a French restaurant as part of the list of F&B restaurants located in H Code building but we subsequently rectified it later yesterday and admitted that it was an oversight. La Petite Maison is located at Shop 1, H Queen’s, 23-29, 1/F Stanley St, Central. Both are within a 4-minute walking distance. Invincible virus carriers can easily walk around the area and spread the disease. Regardless of which building the restaurant is located, the entire LKF has already been detected as a potential hotbed for the virus due to the clusters of COVID-19 cases. None of the F&B outlets was specifically listed to be visited by the patient regardless of the mistake anyway because it was not disclosed by CHP which establishment she visited at H CODE.
Even if we had made the rectification, the General Manager of Le Petite Maison, Romain Blanchard still emailed to us again to say that, ‘so many guests have expressed their concerns and the post has gone viral. We are a very regular based restaurant and you have really jeopardized the trust we received from our guests in those difficult time.’ They even ‘demanded us to offer a serious apology on how we have made a serious mistake that is going to affect their business really badly.’
It seems like F&B outlets like La Petite Maison is willing to put their profits above the health of Hongkongers even if there is evidence of local transmission and in particular, around 8 COVID-19 cases have been linked to LKF and Soho area where the restaurant is closely located. Restaurants and companies should always place the health and safety of their employees and customers as top priority. Apple stores were commended for their swift action to close down their stores worldwide to prevent the spread of virus.
Centre for Health Protection has relentless urged members of the public to go out less and reduce social activities such as meals gatherings or other gatherings, and maintain appropriate social distance with other people as far as possible. In fact, the public should just order deliveries and eat at home whenever possible.
At present, all restaurants and gyms including Pure Fitness/Fitness First have been practising a 14-day suspension of business whenever a case is detected. However, is this a long-term solution to curb the spread of the virus? If a second case is detected again in the same establishment, does this mean that the business will close again for 2 weeks for disinfecting procedure? This futile measure of ‘closing for 2 weeks’ whenever a new case is detected serves no practical purpose. Most F&B outlets are still operating their businesses with the mindset that ‘If no customer is infected in our restaurant, we are COVID-19 free and the business will be carried out as usual.’ Most restaurants and bars do not even take body temperature of diners or prepare health declaration forms for customers to fill. The added procedure would be considered too intimidating for them. Having lax rules means that there will bound to be new cases in the near future.
Even if closing down all eateries, gyms and cinemas may sound drastic, it is still by far the most effective way to contain the virus if we do not want to become the next Milan or London.