Health authorities have found evidence of possible animal-to-human coronavirus transmission in Hong Kong for the first time at a pet store where a worker was confirmed as Delta’s first untraceable infection in three months, after several hamsters have tested positive, the Post has learned. .
Officials, however, are still determining the route of transmission and will provide more details on their investigations at a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon, January 18.
The Delta infection was first reported on Sunday and involves a 23-year-old woman who worked at the Little Boss pet store in Causeway Bay.
A source said current evidence suggested this could be the first animal-to-human coronavirus transmission in Hong Kong.
“Genome sequencing [done on the worker’s virus sample] discovered that the type of genome was the one circulating in Europe and Pakistan,” the source said. “There is a chance [of infection] via hamsters imported from the Netherlands, which also had this type of genome [found on the worker].
“That’s why it’s very likely that transmission this time is from animals to humans.”
Earlier today, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor warned of possible risks of a community outbreak of Covid-19 stemming from the Delta case and a cluster linked to a Yau Ma Tei quarantine hotel.
Lam said it was concerning that the employee was confirmed to be infected with Delta. Cases of the Omicron variant have also been recorded, including a woman who stayed at the Yau Ma Tei hotel and is believed to have infected nine other people.
“We are concerned that there may be a risk of two variants spreading simultaneously. The risk of this pet store is that it involves animals and has more than 10 branches across Hong Kong,” she said. declared before the weekly meeting of his de facto cabinet, the Executive Council.
“We did a lot of animal work on Monday, and it looks worrying. I hope today the minister for food and health and the director for agriculture, fisheries and conservation will explain what are the latest findings on animal care.”
As of Monday, the city’s overall Covid-19 tally stood at 13,048 cases, with 213 related deaths.
Of the less than 20 people who tested preliminarily positive, nine were believed to have been infected by a woman who tested positive five days after completing her hotel quarantine after arriving from Pakistan.
Of the nine, five involved family members of the woman living at the Tai Hang Tung estate in Sham Shui Po where she returned on January 10. The other four were friends she had visited at Po Wah Court in Cheung Sha Wan after her quarantine at the sea-view Silka Hotel in Hong Kong ended.
Authorities revealed on Sunday that poor ventilation in hotel rooms could have led to cross infections on floors 4 and 12. Another person in an adjacent room was identified earlier as infected, raising the possibility that the cases are linked.
On Tuesday, the chief executive also dismissed suggestions that her administration should adopt mainland China-style universal testing.
Lam said the government had yet to complete investigations into whether airline Cathay Pacific had abused quarantine exemptions for cargo staff and the conduct of officials who attended an infamous birthday party on January 3.
“I can guarantee that these investigations will not remain unresolved. Society needs to know the truth, and I need to be fair to society and my colleagues as well,” she said.
She said three senior officials, including Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, were allowed to leave a quarantine camp on Monday after the mandatory length of stay was relaxed.
“But I asked them to use their own leave for home isolation during which they have to do coronavirus tests,” Lam said. “They can only resume their duties from January 24 [if the tests are negative].”
Fourteen senior officials and 20 lawmakers attended the anniversary banquet in Wan Chai on January 3, along with 221 guests, where they were exposed to at least two coronavirus patients. Eleven officials who did not need to be quarantined have been ordered not to leave their homes except for mandatory testing.
The party at the Spanish restaurant Reserva Iberica in Wan Chai was organized by Witman Hung Wai-man, delegate to the Chinese legislature and chief liaison officer for Hong Kong at the Shenzhen Qianhai Authority. Lam ordered a Jan. 7 investigation into the conduct of the officials present.
The government last Friday extended stricter social distancing measures, including a ban on evening dining services for another two weeks, while throwing a lifeline of HK$3.57 billion (617.8 million Singapore dollars) to struggling businesses through its anti-epidemic fund.
Asked on Tuesday whether the government could spend more to help the unemployed and low-income workers, Lam said that while the fund had offered more than HK$6 billion to help businesses early last year , the situation was then much more difficult.
“At that time, we banned on-site dining for at least one to two months, and some premises were ordered to close for over 100 days,” she said.
Lam said Finance Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po had consulted with various sectors on ways to ease people’s hardship, and she would also advise him on the matter.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.