Hong Kong tells US consulate to test staff after two infected

Published Tue, Mar 16, 2021 · 12:24 PM

[HONG KONG] Hong Kong required all staff from the US consulate in the city to undergo Covid-19 testing after two workers there tested preliminary positive and were 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 in a statement late Monday. The two staff members who tested preliminary positive are from the same family.

Hong Kong is clamping down hard following an outbreak that began last week at a gym popular with expatriates in the busy neighborhood of Sai Ying Pun. The government has locked down some residential buildings in the area as well its Central district, which is where the US Consulate is located. 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, but no confirmed cases were discovered overnight. The cluster linked to the gym, Ursus Fitness, is the city's second-biggest of the pandemic, with 122 cases as of Monday.

Hong Kong, which has had 11,312 cases in total since the start of the pandemic and 203 deaths, is stepping up its vaccination campaign to encompass more of its 7.5 million population. From Tuesday, domestic helpers and anyone aged 30 or over is 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.

Hong Kong began its vaccination drive two-and-a-half weeks ago, but hesitancy over vaccines has meant only around 200,000 people have got their first dose, accounting for just 5.4 per cent of the eligible groups prior to Tuesday's expansion. Health authorities said virus-curbing rules would only be relaxed if vaccine rates increase.

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A panel of experts said Monday night that five deaths following Covid vaccinations have no direct link with the Sinovac Biotech Ltd shot. The government has reported seven deaths after inoculating over 160,000 people with the China-made vaccine, but none are directly related to the shot, the experts said at a press conference.

In its statement late Monday, the government said the US Consulate has been fully cooperative following the infections of the two members of staff. In a separate statement Monday, the consulate said it was addressing concerns about hospitalisation procedures and quarantine, particularly regarding the possible separation of children from parents, with the highest levels of the Hong Kong government.

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