Authorities in Hong Kong on Friday announced mandatory COVID-19 testing and a partial lockdown for tens of thousands of the city’s residents, in a bid to curb a growing number of coronavirus cases in recent days.
Residents of the densely populated Jordan and Sham Shui Po districts will be told to stay at home and be subjected to testing, following isolation orders imposed on four apartment blocks last week, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
Between 4,000 and 9,000 residents of 150 buildings in the designated areas will be prevented from leaving their buildings from Saturday morning, unless they can produce a negative COVID-19 test, the paper said, quoting unnamed sources.
“Three types of people will be allowed to enter the area – residents, relatives staying in the same flat as those in need of care, and staff members engaged in essential services such as elderly care,” the report said.
Nobody will be allowed to leave except for essential reasons, including to seek medical treatment or in cases of unforeseen hardship, and shops in the designated areas will be told to close.
The lockdown will only be lifted when everyone in the streets named by the government has been tested, the paper said.
“The Government has delineated the … area bounded by Nathan Road to its east, Jordan Road to its south, Ferry Street to its west and Kansu Street to its north and the … area bounded by Yen Chow Street to its northwest, Tai Po Road to its northeast, Maple Street to its southeast and Lai Chi Kok Road to its southwest,” the government said in a statement on its website.
Preparations appeared to be under way to feed large numbers of people in Kowloon’s Jordan district on Friday.
“You can’t come in, sorry!” a member of staff at a cooked food market in Jordan’s Woosung Street told RFA when a reporter went to check on the lockdown situation, as delivery workers offloaded bulk quantities of tinned vegetables, instant ramen, and packaged drinks at the entrance to the building.
“I can’t tell you anything, don’t talk to me,” she said. “Don’t shoot video!”
A local resident who asked not to be named said that there was a confirmed case in the building where she lived, and she had gone to the market to get food in before the lockdown restrictions started.
“I haven’t been out for a whole week,” she said. “I didn’t want to go out today either, but I was worried that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to [after lockdown].”
A Jordan resident surnamed Chan said she had heard that the lockdown would last at least over the weekend.
“I came out to get some food beforehand,” she said. Asked about her views on the lockdown, she said: “They’re conflicted. There are upsides and downsides to everything.”
Losses to business
A fruit-seller surnamed Ng said she feared losses to her business from rotting fruit, because residents would be unable to leave their buildings to go shopping.
“If I can’t sell it, I worry that it’s going to just rot,” she said. “It’s all money.”
A restaurant owner surnamed Hui said she expects to have to close her business for the duration of the lockdown.
“I’m very fed up with the government for making ordinary people suffer this way,” Hui said.
Meanwhile, the authorities evacuated the residents of one side of the building at Jordan’s Kensington Plaza apartment block after a COVID-19 outbreak in the building, the department of health said.
Residents will be taken to quarantine centers or hospital where appropriate after at least 10 people from five apartments facing the same direction became infected with the coronavirus.
Microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung inspected the building, saying there was a chance that the virus was being transmitted through leaking sewage pipes, or by updrafts of air carrying it in through the windows of apartments on higher floors, a transmission route that was first identified during the SARS epidemic of 2002-2003.
Hong Kong has seen far fewer cases of COVID-10 than other major cities — some 10,000 confirmed cases to date with 167 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
But the city reported 61 cases on Friday, 55 of which were the result of community-based transmission. In 26 cases, the route of transmission was declared untraceable.
The Muslim Council of Hong Kong tweeted that large numbers of law enforcement officers had been sent to the area — which is home to a significant South Asian population — to police the lockdown.
“More than 1,700 disciplinary officers to be deployed in unprecedented move on 150 blocks in coronavirus-hit area,” the council tweeted on Friday. “It starts from tomorrow morning in Jordan & Yau Ma Tei areas.”
Earlier this week, reports emerged of racist narratives around COVID-19 being perpetrated by Hong Kong officials, with one official quoted as telling a vaccine advisory panel that ethnic minorities fail to observe social distancing rules for “cultural” reasons.
“They have many family gatherings and like to gather with fellow countrymen,” health official Raymond Ho was quoted as telling the panel in The Diplomat.
“They like to share food, smoke, drink alcohol, and chat together,” Ho reportedly told the meeting. “If it is without masks, the risk is high. They also need to share sanitary facilities with neighbors if the living environment is crowded.”
Pro-Beijing politician Elizabeth Quat last week called for domestic helpers, many of whom are from the Philippines and Indonesia, to be prevented from going out on their only day off to prevent them from gathering in public squares and parks.
Reported by Man Hoi Yan for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.