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Hong Kong: officials race to contain outbreak of COVID-19 at Port container terminal

Kwai Tsing Container Terminals in Hong Kong (Wikimedia Commons)

PortandTerminal.com, August 16, 2020

The Kwai Tsing Container Terminals, where 29 workers had previously been reported infected, accounted for 34 of Sunday’s case total

HONG KONG (South China Morning Post) – Health authorities are racing to contain an outbreak at Hong Kong’s biggest container terminal. The situation is serious enough that there has been discussion of closing down the entire terminal – more than half of the 74 new infections registered in Hong Kong on Sunday trace to one terminal at the port.

Expanded tests will be carried out to cover up to 8,000 workers, many of whom spend hours inside cramped, makeshift dormitories at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals, according to union members. The site now has 63 Covid-19 cases connected to more than 10 companies.

“We are still discussing what to do [if there’s a bigger outbreak], but shutting down the whole terminal would be a big deal, as many of the city’s goods and products are from there,” the Centre for Health Protection’s Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said when asked if there was a need to completely shut down the 279-hectare site.

South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports that Sunday’s tally included 34 tied to a cluster at Kwai Tsing, where 29 workers or their family members had previously been reported infected, taking the tally linked to the site to 63 cases.

Thirty-three of the 34 infected, most of whom exhibited no symptoms, were linked to the Wang Kee Port Operation Services Limited site and identified after testing bottles were distributed.

The infected workers primarily worked outdoors unloading, handling or inspecting containers, while some part-time workers also helped to move and arrange goods, though preliminary investigations found shared employee facilities to be the likeliest source of infection.

“More than a hundred staff working for Wang Kee use the same common area. [They] eat, relax, shower inside, sleep over and live like a family. That would contribute to the high transmission,” said Chuang, head of the centre’s communicable disease branch.

Situated near Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi, the affected container site contains nine terminals, and 24 berths operated by five different operators. Each operator further subcontracts businesses to local companies such as Wang Kee.

Jessie Chung Wai-yin, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Container Terminal Operators Association, who declined to comment on the condition of the workers’ quarters, said operators had been meeting with the government to discuss ways to stop the virus’ spread.

“The last thing we want to see is that the port has to be shut down. It doesn’t concern only the container terminals, it concerns the entirety of Hong Kong,” Chung said.

Read South China Morning Post’s full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak at the port in Hong Kong by clicking here.

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