COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong
This article documents an ongoing situation relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The article may change rapidly as information becomes available, and not all information cited may be accurate. The latest updates to this article may not reflect the most current information. Please refer to your local government for the latest advice and information pertaining to a specific location. (May 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
The COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong is part of the ongoing worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The virus was first confirmed to have spread to Hong Kong on 23 January 2020. Confirmed cases were generally transferred to Princess Margaret Hospital's Infectious Disease Centre for isolation and centralised treatment. On 5 February, only after a five-day strike by front-line medical workers did the Hong Kong government close all but three border control points – Hong Kong International Airport, Shenzhen Bay Control Point, and Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Control Point remaining open. As of 30 May 2020, Hong Kong had 1,084 confirmed cases, 1,036 recovered cases (including 1 probable case) and four death cases.
|COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong|
|First outbreak||Wuhan, Hubei, China|
|Arrival date||23 January 2020|
(4 months, 1 week and 2 days)
Hong Kong was relatively unscathed by the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak and had a flatter epidemic curve than most other places, which observers consider remarkable given its status as an international transport hub. Furthermore, its proximity to China and its millions of mainland visitors annually would make it vulnerable. Some experts now believe the habit of wearing masks in public since the SARS epidemic of 2003 may have helped keep its confirmed infections at 845, with four deaths, by the beginning of April. In a study published in April 2020 in the Lancet, the authors expressed their belief that border restrictions, quarantine and isolation, social distancing, and behavioural changes such as wearing masks likely all played a part in the containment of the disease up to the end of March. Others attributed the success to critical thinking of citizens who have become accustomed to distrusting the competence and political motivations of the government, the World Health Organization, and the Chinese Communist Party.
For Hongkongers, the outbreak of the Chinese Wuhan Virus evoked bitter memories as the city was at the forefront of the SARS epidemic in 2003, when over 1,700 people contracted the virus and almost 300 people died locally. The coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan took place in the backdrop of widespread and intense political conflict and civil unrest fed by anti-government sentiment, since June 2019. Carrie Lam, the city's chief executive, enjoys a negative approval rating of 80 percent. The District Council elections in November, widely regarded as a proxy referendum over the protest movement's demands, saw the pro-democracy camp achieve their biggest landslide victory in Hong Kong's history, where they took control of 17 out of 18 districts. The economy of the city has been reeling under the effects of the unrest, as the number of mainland visitors fell and business confidence suffered, and the city slipped into recession.
Lam had invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance on 4 October to impose a law to ban wearing face masks in public gatherings. The law would come to contradict later measures to control the spread of the virus, and has been widely ignored by citizens, who have learnt to be mistrustful of the government. Some pro-democracy activists such as Joshua Wong view the successes in curbing a local coronavirus epidemic had been the result of being wary of early information from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the dangers of the virus – a view propagated owing to undue influence from mainland China.
As the coronavirus crisis escalated in February and March 2020, the scale of the protests dwindled. Protest activities continued regularly in Tseung Kwan O, Yuen Long and Mong Kok every month. Large-scale protests gave way to the coronavirus pandemic, but smaller scale protests in various districts have resumed upon easing of virus restrictions. The government has invoked Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance, imposing a 4-person limit for public gatherings, and many observers believe that the coronavirus pandemic had provided cover for an increase of arrests related to the protests. Following the emergence of three cases of local transmission, the government extended its coronavirus social distancing measures by 14 days, to 4 June, affecting the annual commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Victoria Park. The government denied suggestions that the extension was aimed at interfering with the commemoration, saying the decision was made in accordance with its extension policy.
Upon learning of the outbreak, the government required disclosure by those who had been to wet markets in Wuhan. The government widened the criteria for notification on 3 January – anyone who had visited Wuhan within 14 days before the onset of any respiratory symptoms of illness would need to inform health authorities.
The HK government declared a "serious response level" to the virus outbreak centred on Wuhan on 4 January, when Hong Kong announced eight suspected cases; the eight cases turned out negative for the disease from Wuhan. Medical experts in Hong Kong urged mainland authorities to be more forthcoming with Wuhan patient information that could aid epidemiological study. Although Wuhan health authorities said there was "no obvious evidence" of human-to-human transmission of the then-unidentified virus, University of Hong Kong infectious diseases expert Dr Ho Pak-leung suspected such transmission had happened among cases in Wuhan, and urged "the most stringent" precautionary measures. However, press reported that border checks at the West Kowloon high-speed rail terminal were not yet operational. On 8 January, Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection (CHP) added "Severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent" to their list of notifiable diseases to expand their authority on quarantine. The Hong Kong government also shortened hospital visits and made it a requirement for visitors to wear face masks. Screening was tightened at airports and train stations with connections to Wuhan. In the first week of 2020, 30 unwell travellers from Wuhan were tested. Most had other respiratory viruses.
On 22 January, a 39-year-old man from mainland China who had travelled from Shenzhen and who arrived in Hong Kong by high-speed rail developed symptoms of pneumonia. Resident in Wuhan, he had arrived in Shenzhen by highspeed rail with his family. He tested positive for the virus and was hospitalised in Princess Margaret Hospital, Kowloon. The same day, a 56-year-old man from Ma On Shan, who had visited Wuhan in the previous week, also tested positive. These two cases were listed as "Highly Suspected Cases", they were confirmed positive the following day.
On 23 January, the Hong Kong government designated the Lady MacLehose Holiday Village in Sai Kung as a quarantine centre. The Hong Kong Tourism Board cancelled the Lunar New Year Cup and a four-day Lunar New Year carnival, citing concerns over the virus outbreak. In addition, the previous two cases of "Highly Suspected Cases" had been confirmed positive by health and government officials.
On 24 January, health authorities confirmed three more cases, all of the patients had come from Wuhan. The third case was a 62-year-old woman that had arrived to Hong Kong with her husband. They had both moved in with their daughter and son-in-law, who lived locally. Her husband, daughter and son-in-law had not developed symptoms and were both quarantined in the Lady MacLehose Holiday Village. The 4th and 5th cases were a 62-year-old woman and her husband aged 63 who had both arrived in Hong Kong on 22 January and had moved into their daughter's house. The couple attempted to escape from Prince of Wales Hospital after learning that they would have to be quarantined, but failed when the police were called.
On 25 January, the Hong Kong government declared the viral outbreak as an "emergency" – the highest warning tier. The city's largest amusement parks, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Ocean Park Hong Kong, and wax museum Madame Tussauds Hong Kong closed from 26 January, until further notice.
On 26 January, three more cases were identified: the 6th consisted of a 47-year-old man who lived in North Point who had been working at a wet market in Wuhan for a few weeks before returning to Hong Kong; the 7th was a 68-year-old Hong Kong woman who lived in neighbouring Shenzhen and had visited Wuhan earlier that month. She was sent to North District Hospital after she presented symptoms while arriving at the Shenzhen-Hong Kong (Luowu) border on 25 January; the 8th case was the 64-year-old husband of the 3rd case in Hong Kong. He had developed a fever on the night of 25 January during quarantine, and was immediately sent to hospital to be tested for the coronavirus. A newly built housing block in Fanling in Hong Kong's New Territories that was earmarked as a quarantine facility for people who may have been exposed to Wuhan coronavirus, was fire-bombed. Dozens of residents and protesters opposed to the idea held rallies outside the complex.
On 28 January, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam announced the suspension of high-speed rail service between Hong Kong and mainland China from 30 January, a halving of all cross-border ferry services and flights from mainland China, cross-border bus services would also be reduced. The Hong Kong government was awaiting the for the central government's agreement to suspend issuing individual visitors permits for mainland residents to Hong Kong. All government employees (except those providing essential/emergency services) were instructed to work from home. In a press conference later that day, Lam said that the Man Kam To and Sha Tau Kok border checkpoints would be closed.
On 29 January, two connected cases were confirmed by health officials. The 9th and 10th cases consisted of a couple from Wuhan in their 70s who had arrived in Hong Kong on board Cathay Dragon KA853 on 22 January, and checked into a hotel in West Kowloon on the same day. They had visited multiple restaurants at the hotel, the Elements mall, the Ritz Carlton. During their visit to the Four Seasons Hotel on 28 January, the staff who noticed that the couple had a persistent cough and appeared unwell called an ambulance, and both were transferred to Hospital, where they tested positive for coronavirus. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) announced that all facilities overseen by the department including all public museums, public libraries and sports centres and venues would be closed until further notice as a precaution. On 14 February, the LCSD announced that the closure of its facilities would be extended until 2 March 2020. On 28 April, Hong Kong Public Libraries announced a partial reopening of some of its locations from 6 May.
On 30 January, two new cases of coronavirus were confirmed. The 11th case was a 39-year-old woman who lived and worked in Hong Kong – the daughter of the 9th and 10th (couple from Wuhan) cases. She had previously also stayed with them at the W Hotel in West Kowloon, and also visited the Hong Kong with them. She developed symptoms on 28 January after sending her parents to hospital. She was the first case of local transmission in Hong Kong. The 12th patient was a 75-year-old man who lived in Tsing Yi who had visited Guangdong province in China from late December till early January, and Macau for several days in mid-January. He developed coughing symptoms on 22 January and was hospitalised in a regular hospital room at the Queen Margaret Hospital. Not having declared his travel history, he was initially not tested for the coronavirus. On 30 January, his conditions worsened and he tested positive for the coronavirus.
On 31 January, the 13th case of COVID-19 was confirmed – a 39-year-old Hong Kong man with diabetes who lived in Whampoa, Kowloon. He had come back from Wuhan in the previous week, developed muscle pain on 29 January and a cough and fever on 31 January. After he was confirmed to have the coronavirus, his family were transferred to a quarantine camp.
On 4 February, the CHP reported Hong Kong's first death, that of a 39-year-old patient, the 13th case. Three cases were confirmed on 5 February, three on 6 February, and another two on 7 February.
On 9 February, Hong Kong confirmed three more cases with two from the same family, bringing the total number to 29. It was also announced on the same day that the passengers and crew of the World Dream cruise ship were allowed to leave after a check revealed that they were negative for the coronavirus and had no history of being in close contact with eight disembarked passengers who were tested positive for the virus. On 19 February, a 70-year-old man with pre-existing illnesses became the second person to die of COVID-19 in Hong Kong. On 24 February, seven new cases were identified that included two evacuees from Diamond Princess, a cruise ship quarantined in Japan, bringing the total number of cases to 81.
As of 2 March, Hong Kong had reached 100 confirmed cases. Two new cases were confirmed that day which include a brother of a COVID-19 patient and a woman from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. An 88-year-old man living at a care home in Shau Kei Wan had tested "weak positive" for the virus the same day, further tests would be done to test whether he was infected.
On 20 March, Hong Kong recorded 48 new coronavirus infections, the biggest daily tally since testing began, bringing the total to 256 confirmed cases. Of these cases, 36 had a travel history. Gabriel Leung, member of an expert panel on the viral outbreak, warned the public about letting down their vigilance prematurely as Hong Kong was at the "highest risk" since the start of the pandemic. An article published on 25 March by the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned that an increase in confirmed cases would "inevitably" occur as long as Hong Kong citizens continued to return from abroad.
On 22 March, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology published an article on Multilevel Antimicrobial Polymer (MAP-1), a surface coating spray that inactivates viruses, bacteria and spores and that was successfully used in the combat of COVID-19 in public places like schools, shopping malls and school buses.
On 25 March, Hong Kong closed its border to all incoming nonresidents arriving from overseas. Transiting through Hong Kong was no longer allowed either. All returning residents, regardless of point of departure, were subject to the Compulsory Quarantine Order, which required all to stay at a reported quarantine premise (either home or hotel) for 14 days. Tracking devices were employed to enforce the order. All returning residents from the United States, the UK, and continental Europe were required to go through enhanced screening and submit saliva sample for COVID-19 testing.
On 27 March, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam banned indoor and outdoor public gatherings of more than four people, for 14 days starting from 29 March. Other regulations enacted, which took effect at the same time, included requiring restaurants to operate at half their capacity and to set tables at least 1.5 meters apart.
On 1 April, the Hong Kong government announced the temporary closure of karaoke lounges, nightclubs and mah-jong premises. Confusion over the government's listing of venues to be temporarily closed led the public to believe that other venues such as beauty parlors, massage parlors and clubhouses would have to be closed as well. However the government clarified that such establishments would be allowed to remain open subject to businesses providing hand sanitiser to customers, as well as requiring customers to wear a mask and have their temperature taken while inside the business venue.
On Friday 3 April at 6 pm, all pubs and bars across the territory were ordered to close for 14 days.
At a press briefing on 21 April, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the social distancing rules, which already been extended previously, would be extended beyond 23 April by 14 days. Shortly after the press briefing, the Food and Health Bureau said that the cap on the number of customers at 50 per cent capacity would be relaxed.
In late April, researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology said that a newly developed antiviral coating may provide up to 90 days of "significant" protection against COVID-19. The disinfectant is encapsulated in heat-sensitive polymers and released when there is human contact with a surface such as a handrail or elevator button.
On 1 May, no major Labour Day demonstrations were authorised as the gathering limit of four persons was upheld. Police handed out 18 penalty tickets for breach of social-distancing rules at street booths and at a singalong event in a mall.
On 5 May, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the cap on public gatherings would be raised from four to eight people, and that a number of businesses including beauty salons and gyms would be allowed to reopen subject to precautions. The number of people allowed to use a single table in restaurants and catering facilities was likewise increased from four to eight. Schools will resume classes in stages from 27 May, starting with secondary schools and moving progressively to younger ages.
By 30 May, a total of sixteen passengers arriving to Hong Kong from Pakistan on Qatar Airways flight QR818 on 28 May had tested positive. Also on 30 May, a 34-year-old woman with no recent travel history tested preliminary positive.
Border closure controversyEdit
The Hong Kong Government refused to close all the borders with the mainland to reduce the risk of the virus entering Hong Kong, opting instead for progressive partial closures in response to increasing public pressure. There were calls for tightening up controls and checks for visitors, especially those coming from Wuhan, the point of origin of the epidemic. Medical experts had demanded mandatory health declarations at all borders and ports but they were initially rejected. Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam rejected proposals to close borders as "inappropriate and impractical", but said that mandatory declarations would be implemented.
On 28 January, Lam announced that the high-speed rail link with mainland China, and all cross-border ferry services, would be suspended starting two days later. Additionally, the number of flights from mainland China and cross-border bus services were reduced. Hong Kong government employees (except those providing essential/emergency services) were asked to work from home. Later on that day, the government closed two border checkpoints. Government clarification that treatment for Coronavirus patients would be free for allcomers further inflamed Hong Kong residents as the policy ignited fears of infected mainland Chinese deliberately travelling to Hong Kong to seek medical care, thus risk spreading the disease as well as further overwhelming medical facilities. Following public uproar, the government re-imposed fees for non-Hong Kong residents.
As the major border checkpoints such as Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau and Huanggang remained open, public sector health workers, as represented by Hospital Authority Employees’ Alliance – a newly formed union – decried the government measures as "too little, too late". Over 400 public hospital doctors and nurses also wrote to the government, demanding border closure and also threatening strike action. The union warned the government its members may go on strike in early February if the government failed to implement tighter controls on immigration.
Facing continued pressure from strikers and from all parties across the political divide, Lam announced a raft of measures including six further border closures on 30 January. Lam explained her government's insistence on keeping major border crossings open conformed with the WHO's position that draconian travel and trade restrictions were unnecessary, and it was opposed to any "discriminatory move" to close borders with China or restrict access to Chinese travellers. On 3 February, the government closed all but four border crossings – the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge, Shenzhen Bay Port, the international airport, and the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal – and introduced further quarantine measures, but still refused closing the border with China. After a union vote, a public hospital strikes ensued. The strike involved 6,000 medical workers, lasted five days – from 3 to 7 February – culminating in an occupation of two floors in the Hospital Authority complex in Kowloon City. According to the authority, the industrial action had led to "severe disruption" to operations, particularly at accident and emergency, neonatal intensive care, cancer and cardiac units. A second strike call was not successful. Pundits noted that after the turmoil caused by her bungled handling of the extradition bill enactment, Carrie Lam lacked the political capital to make the demand for full border closure – something the Chinese government was not inclined to accede to.
Since the outbreak, the availability of a significant number of products including toilet paper, face masks and disinfectant products (such as alcohol and bleach) came under pressure across the city. An ongoing period of panic buying has also caused many stores to be cleared of non-medical products such as bottled water, vegetables, and rice.
On the professional level, the Hospital Authority reported at the end of January that stock of surgical masks for public hospitals had fallen below three-months' supply, but said it hoped to secure replenishment lasting until June. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she had written to the State Council hoping to obtain supplies from mainland China. The Government of Hong Kong had its imports of face masks cancelled as global face mask stockpiles decline. As 80 per cent of surgical masks sold in Hong Kong were mainland-sourced, the considerable internal demand for masks rendered Hong Kong a lower priority.
At the retail level, masks and hand sanitiser were in short supply by the end of January. Desperate citizens took to chasing supplies across town, rushing to any store where they may be available, and many pharmacies had long queues forming outside; some would queue overnight despite advice from stores. Unsuccessful customers took out their frustrations on store staff, and disputes were widely reported; police were called on one occasion by pharmacy staff in Tin Shui Wai. Most stores had limited supplies, and customers would often face rationing. In addition to toilet paper, flour became oversold as citizens took up home baking.
In early February, after CSI masks appeared in the local marketplace, the government was called to account for the supplies of masks manufactured by inmates in local prisons under the aegis of the Correctional Services Industries. In 2019, masks were produced at a rate of 4 million in each quarter by the Correctional Services Department, and were distributed among various government departments. Media reported that the stocks within different departments were freely available to staff before the lunar new year. Due to the onset of the epidemic, they suddenly became a precious commodity in Hong Kong, and the abuse was highlighted.
Following an admission that the city had failed to procure adequate supplies of PPE, the government announced support for local private mask production by subsidising each production line with grants, help in identifying suitable premises, as well as placing orders to sustain their operations. An increase in mask production by Correctional Services Industries from 1.8 million to 2.5 million units a month is planned.
In view of the coronavirus outbreak, the Education Bureau closed all kindergartens, primary schools, secondary schools, and special schools until 20 April. The disruption raised concerns over the situation of students due to take examinations at the end of the year, especially in light of the protest-related disruption that happened in 2019. The Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination was postponed for four weeks from late March to late April, with HKEAA announcing that the oral component of both Chinese Language and English Language would be cancelled.
On 5 February, flag carrier Cathay Pacific requested its 27,000 employees to voluntarily take three weeks of unpaid leave by the end of June. The airline had previously reduced flights to mainland China by 90% and overall flights by 30%.
The arrest of dozens of pro-democracy activists and opposition politicians for protests organised and carried out during 2019 in the course of the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, which included the arrest of 15 high-profile pro-democracy figures on 18 April, was seen widely having been expediated by the local restrictions on demonstrations, besides the decreased international attention due to the pandemic. Police have used coronavirus laws banning groups of more than four, for example, to disperse protesters outside Prince Edward station on 31 March, and a 300-person singing protest in Cityplaza on 26 April.
In a study published in April 2020 in the Lancet, the authors expressed their belief that border restrictions, quarantine and isolation, social distancing, and behavioural changes such as wearing masks likely all played a part in the containment of the disease up to the end of March.
Another important success factor is the critical thinking of citizens, who now distrust the government through lessons learned from the pro-democracy protests. The Atlantic credits the swift, collective and efficient grassroots movement. Already familiar with tides of misinformation during months of protests, obsessive fact-checking is practised; after the 2003 SARS epidemic, claims about the non-transmissibility of the disease advanced by the government, the Communist Party and the WHO were also ignored by citizens, who took to wearing masks despite the anti-mask law in place.
Policy comparisons with MacauEdit
The government actions with regards the epidemic in Hong Kong were inevitably compared with the "calm, organised handling" in neighbouring Macau, notwithstanding the relative sizes of the population. Macau demonstrated a faster and better coordinated response, introduced firm measures to limit the flow of people from mainland China, and implemented comprehensive collection and effective usage of big data. In particular, in contrast to long queues of desperate citizens chasing masks often at inflated prices in Hong Kong, Macau was lauded for providing their citizens with a measure of peace of mind by taking control of mask distribution, ensuring affordable masks were available for each Macau resident at the start of the epidemic.
Immediately upon the detection of its first cross-border case, Macau closed its border with neighbouring Zhuhai. Macau's entry bans on Hubei residents, and those who had visited the province 14 days before their arrival in Macau, was similar to Hong Kong's ban on the surface, but the Macau authorities' demanding official medical certification of infection-free status brought down visitor numbers more sharply because such certificates are hard to obtain.
The media reported that Macau police searched 86 hotels and deported about 150 visitors from Hubei and put 4 into voluntary quarantine, whereas immigration officers in Hong Kong checked 110 hotels, and only took down details of the 15 travellers identified as being from Hubei because none showed symptoms of Covid.
(up to 1 June 2020)
- Confirmed cases: 1091
- Probable cases: 1
- Asymptomatic cases: 226 (20.8% of confirmed cases)
- Average time from date of onset to confirm: ~6.5 days
Cases by age groups and genderEdit
|0 to 20||7||5||117||90||219||20.2%|
|21 to 30||5||1||121||113||240||22.1%|
|31 to 40||5||5||111||95||1||217||20.0%|
|41 to 50||1||70||51||122||11.2%|
|51 to 60||4||2||76||62||144||13.3%|
|61 to 70||3||1||49||45||1||99||9.1%|
Cases by area and hospitalsEdit
|Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital||3||120||1|
|Queen Mary Hospital||1||121|
|Queen Elizabeth Hospital||4||118|
|Kwong Wah Hospital||19|
|United Christian Hospital||3||122|
|Tseung Kwan O Hospital||28|
|Princess Margaret Hospital||14||128||2|
|Caritas Medical Centre||1||21||1|
|Yan Chai Hospital||16|
|North Lantau Hospital||2|
|New Territories East|
|Prince of Wales Hospital||5||97|
|Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital||45|
|North District Hospital||37|
|New Territories West|
|Tuen Mun Hospital||12||101|
|Pok Oi Hospital||2|
Daily number of new cases by month:
Number of active cases from 22 January to 29 February:
Number of active cases from 1 March to 30 April:
Number of active cases since 1 May:
Number of cases by condition:
Number of cases by infection source:
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