Hong Kong declares community outbreak of coronavirus

Panic buying had emerged prior to the declaration.

Matthias Ang | February 06, 2020, 03:28 PM

A community outbreak of the novel coronavirus has been declared in the city of Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

The declaration was made by Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist and infectious disease expert from the University of Hong Kong.

Those infected in Hong Kong have not been to mainland China

Yuen explained that several of Hong Kong's 21 confirmed cases had not been to mainland China recently.

With regard to the breakdown of cases, five of Hong Kong's new coronavirus patients over the past two days had not travelled outside the city recently, while in total, eight of the 21 confirmed cases did not have travel history related to the outbreak.

This means that it is likely a local outbreak has occurred instead and that transmission between humans is already going on.

The city also reported its first death from the virus on Tuesday, Feb. 4.

This was the second death recorded outside of mainland China.

Yuen further warned that it was imperative for the local transmission to be brought under control, otherwise, Hong Kong could risk becoming a "mainland city that has suffered lots of cases".

Declaration made a day after quarantine measure announced

Yuen's announcement came a day after the Hong Kong government announced that all arrivals from mainland China, regardless of nationality, will have to be quarantined for 14 days, beginning from Saturday, Feb. 8.

The move had come in the wake of strikes by thousands of medical workers to pressure the Hong Kong government into completely closing the border with mainland China to control the outbreak of the virus.

Some land crossings will still remain open, however, such as the international airport, the Kai Tak cruise terminal, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Brdige, and the Shenzhen Bay Port.

SCMP further reported that Yuen had initially urged the government to go even further in closing down the border.

However, he has since said that the government could have "difficulties", and urged everyone to cooperate with one another.

Panic buying emerges prior to declaration of community spread

Prior to the declaration of a community spread, several media outlets reported that panic buying in the city had emerged, with stocks of rice and toilet rolls being cleared in minutes at multiple supermarkets.

CNA reported that the rise in cases of people who had not travelled outside the city had sparked a growing fear of local transmission.

The Hong Kong government has since blamed rumours of shortages of goods for causing panic buying, and said that the city has sufficient supplies of staple goods.

Hundreds of private clinics at risk of closing

Separately, RTHK News reported that several private clinics in the city have closed over a shortage of masks.

The Hong Kong Medical Association stated that at least 10 private clinics had closed and that up to another 400 could follow if fresh supplies of masks do not arrive soon.

A member of the association's council stated that clinics had been advised to close by the association if they lacked masks as they could be putting themselves in a dangerous position.

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