February 11, 2020 / 2:36 AM / 10 days ago

Residents of evacuated Hong Kong apartments test negative for coronavirus

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Five Hong Kongers evacuated from a residential building where a man and woman confirmed with coronavirus live tested negative for the virus, health authorities said on Tuesday, easing concerns of a cluster of the outbreak in the Chinese-ruled city.

Personnel in protective gear prepare to evacuate residents from a public housing building following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The five people were exhibiting flu-like symptoms earlier. They remain in quarantine together with 200-plus residents who were evacuated from the building in Tsing Yi district in the New Territories in the early hours.

The evacuation occurred after a 62-year-old woman became the second confirmed case in the building on Monday, after a 75-year-old man tested positive on Jan. 30. The two patients, currently receiving treatment, live on different floors.

Initial investigations into the drainage system in the building further reduced concerns that the virus may have spread through the pipes, authorities said.

The flat where the latest infection was discovered had had an alteration to its drainage system, but the pipe network in the public building was in good condition, they said.

Parts of Hong Kong, including restaurants, shopping malls and cafes, are almost deserted as people work from home and schools remain closed, evoking memories of 2003 when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) sent panic across the city.

Most of Hong Kong’s population of more than 7 million people live in high-rise buildings. In 2003, initial exposure was blamed on high concentrations of the virus entering apartment bathrooms through floor drains in a complex called Amoy Gardens.

“The pipe design in the building is very good and even better than in many private properties, and it is definitely not the same situation as Amoy Garden,” Yuen Kwok-yung, chair of Infectious Diseases, Department of Microbiology at the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, told reporters.

SARS killed nearly 300 people in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam earlier on Tuesday appealed for residents to stay indoors as much as possible.

“As part and parcel of enhancing social distancing we are making an appeal to the people of Hong Kong to stay at home as much as possible,” Lam told reporters. “But at the moment, we’re making this appeal, we’re not going for compulsory closures because Hong Kong is a free society.”

The government has confirmed 49 cases of coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,000 people, almost all in mainland China.

Embattled Lam is grappling with the health scare even as she faces broader tensions in Hong Kong society where months of often-violent anti-government protests paralysed parts of the global financial centre.

The virus has piled further pressure on Hong Kong’s economy, with retailers, hotels and travel-related businesses among the hardest hit as tourists stay away.

Reporting by Donny Kwok and Clare Jim; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Jacqueline Wong and Alison Williams

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