• Among the newly infected are three people who visited a karaoke lounge with a group
  • Health authorities admit they mistakenly sent a father in quarantine to hospital when it was the son who tested positive for Covid-19
Hong Kong has limited public gatherings to four people to ensure social distancing. Photo: Nora Tam

Hong Kong will keep schools shut until at least the end of May and extend social-distancing measures that have forced the closure of most leisure venues, the Post has learned, as the city recorded 21 more coronavirus cases on Tuesday, pushing the total to 935.

The decision was made after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor met her senior Executive Council advisers in the morning and they agreed with medical experts that resuming classes later this month as planned was too risky, given new Covid-19 cases were emerging every day, a source said.

"Experts advised there should be at least 21 days without new cases before schools should resume," the source said. "Given the current situation, it was estimated that schools cannot reopen on April 20 and will have to remain closed until the end of May. We do not want to put the students at risk."

Sources also revealed that younger and stable patients would be moved to a new block at the quarantine centre in Fo Tan, to free up hospital beds for more needy cases.

Twelve of the newly infected people had a history of recent travel, said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection.

Among the local transmissions were three more people from a group that visited a karaoke lounge operated by CEO Neway in Causeway Bay on March 25. Four other cases involved family members of infected people tied to outbreaks at nightlife venues, taking the total of that cluster to 97.

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection. Photo: Warton Li

Dr Wong Ka-hing, the centre's controller, also revealed that health officers had mistakenly sent a father of a family sent to a quarantine centre to the hospital, when the son who tested positive should have been transferred instead.

Another 20 more Covid-19 patients have been discharged, according to Dr Sara Ho Yuen-ha, the Hospital Authority's chief manager for patient safety and risk management.

Schools have been closed since the beginning of February and their reopening twice postponed, although many students are taking classes online from home. The Education Bureau was still evaluating whether university entrance exams should proceed on April 24 or be delayed.

A man in a mask walks past a sign reminding Hong Kong residents about social distancing. Photo: EPA

Lam said ahead of the Exco meeting that the government aimed to strike a balance of enforcing social distancing, protecting the economy and ensuring society functioned as normal.

In an attempt to bring the number of local transmissions under control, the government has in recent weeks introduced measures to force social distancing, including limiting public gatherings to four people and requiring restaurants to ensure 1.5 metres between tables. Those rules, introduced on March 29 and set to expire on Sunday, would remain in place for another 14 days, the source said. The administration will make the announcement on Friday. The lockdown of leisure venues, such as cinemas, gyms and saunas, will be extended two more weeks past the original ending date on Saturday.

We saw on Sunday that a lot of people headed out, and the situation is worryingSource

Although the number of new infections has dropped markedly on several days this past week, the figures remained too high for the government to consider relaxing curbs, according to another insider.

"We saw on Sunday that a lot of people headed out, and the situation is worrying," the source said. "Experts suggest we can only afford adjustments when the number goes to single digits. We see no room for relaxing the measures at the moment."

That mood of caution was underlined by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday, when she said authorities would not hesitate to adopt a tougher stance on people who violated the order on public gathering sizes.

Dr David Hui Shu-cheong, one of the infectious disease advisers to the government, agreed it was still too early to relax the social-distancing measures. "Given there are still untraceable cases in the last week, and some with unknown sources from the community, we should continue those measures until the cases number further go down," he said.

James Lam Yat-fung, principal of Lions College and a former chairman of the Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, said schools generally hoped the exams could take place as scheduled and that classes resumed later. "But all these depend on the case numbers we have in this coming weeks, schools are prepared that we would not be able to resume class before mid-May, but we still hope public exams could go ahead," Lam said.

Insiders also said the government had accelerated preparation of another residential block at the Chun Yeung Estate at Fo Tan, an unoccupied housing development converted into a quarantine camp, to handle recovering and younger coronavirus patients who did not require oxygen support, freeing up beds at public hospitals for confirmed and suspected cases.

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