Hong Kong’s first coronavirus patient to recover from the deadly new illness known as Covid-19 was discharged from hospital on Wednesday, even as 10 Hongkongers were confirmed to be infected in the mainland Chinese province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak.
This came as President Xi Jinping chaired a Politburo Standing Committee meeting in Beijing to send out a message that China had achieved initial victory in controlling the outbreak that has claimed more than 1,100 lives in the country.
Hong Kong also reported its 50th confirmed case, a 51-year-old restaurant worker and colleague of a woman who attended a family hotpot meal that was linked to 11 other infections.
The recovered patient who left Princess Margaret Hospital on Wednesday was identified as a 25-year-old man who became the city’s 18th confirmed case, infected locally through an unknown source.
Officials said more recovered patients could be discharged soon in some positive news for the city amid a health crisis that has hit daily life and business hard while also sparking panic buying of masks and essential goods.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, under fire for her administration’s handling of the crisis, had been lobbying foreign missions in the city to assure their respective governments there was no need to ban travel to Hong Kong, but the US State Department dealt a blow to her efforts by allowing its consulate staff and their families to flee the city.
In another development, the government said police had found two people reported on Monday to have absconded from 14-day home quarantines, and would consider further action against them.
The Hospital Authority’s chief manager of patient safety and risk management, Dr Sara Ho Yuen-ha, said antiviral drugs such as Kaletra and Ribavirin had been used to treat the 25-year-old man who was the first to be discharged on Wednesday.
“There is no conclusive answer as to which kind of patients could recover sooner. But generally speaking, if one is younger and has no chronic illness, comparatively, his recovery ability will be better,” she said.
The recovered patient would not have to remain under quarantine after returning home, but was required to visit a doctor in a week for a check-up, Ho said.
“When test reports are back and if their symptoms improve, we will not rule out that some more could be discharged tonight or tomorrow,” she added.
As of Wednesday, 48 patients, four of whom were in a critical condition, were still being treated in eight hospitals. The coronavirus has killed one patient so far.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection expressed concerns that many of the recent cases had been infected through unknown sources.
“We believe there could be some hidden local chain of infection existing, but it is not yet a mass outbreak,” she said. “But if the number of such cases keeps increasing, the risk of a mass local outbreak is high. That is what we worry about.”
Adding to the atmosphere of anxiety was the revelation that seven Hongkongers had been infected in Hubei’s provincial capital and ground zero for Covid-19, Wuhan, while another three had contracted the coronavirus in the smaller city of Enshi, about a seven-hour drive away.
We believe there could be some hidden local chain of infection existing, but it is not yet a mass outbreak
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, Centre for Health Protection
Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said the 10 patients came from three families. The seven in Wuhan, four men and three women, aged 24 to 65, were from two families. The family in Enshi, a couple and their 12-year-old boy, went to a local hospital without seeking help from the Hong Kong government, the bureau said.
“After being informed of the situation, we immediately tasked the Wuhan [Economic and Trade Office] to render all possible assistance to the Hong Kong people concerned,” a bureau spokesman said.
“Thanks to the efforts devoted by the Wuhan ETO in coordinating with the relevant authorities, six of them have been admitted to local hospitals within a short time. The remaining four have made their own way to seek medical treatment from hospitals. At present, all of them are being treated in local hospitals and are generally in a stable condition.”
Amid mounting public pressure on the Hong Kong government to be more proactive in helping citizens stranded in Hubei, pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun called for chartered flights to bring them home.
“It is worrying; the government must do whatever it can so that they can come back, especially when it is getting more risky to stay there,” she said. “We strongly urge the government to arrange flights to bring them back.”
Earlier on Wednesday when two Hongkongers were confirmed to be infected in Hubei, officials said they had approached a hospital in Wuhan for help.
In a letter obtained by the Post, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau wrote to the Wuhan Asia General Hospital, which is run by Hong Kong businessman Tse Chun-ming, asking it to provide treatment to Li Ka-ho, 36, and his father.
“His father, Mr Li Kwok-chiu, has already been confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus, and has been receiving treatment in your hospital,” the letter read. “Now Mr Li Ka-ho has also been confirmed to be infected, so please provide him with treatment as well so that it will be easier for him to stay in touch with his father, and be taken care of by their family.”
A source confirmed that the 36-year-old man’s mother was also infected and had been hospitalised.
The father was previously isolated at home because hospitals in Wuhan had run out of beds.
With the father’s condition deteriorating, the son sought help last Friday from the Hong Kong government’s Wuhan office, which arranged for the father to be treated at the Wuhan Asia General Hospital.
An extra bed was added for the father even though the hospital was already full. It remains unclear if the son is now in the same hospital.
More than 2,000 Hong Kong residents are estimated to be in Hubei, many of whom want to return home but are trapped by a province-wide lockdown.
Last week, a Hong Kong family of four stranded in the province for two weeks said they had only three surgical masks left to share, as they waited for officials to bring them home.
But the head of the Hong Kong government’s representative office in Wuhan could not give them any immediate hope, admitting the prospect of bringing back so many was a “huge headache”.
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