Hong Kong yesterday lifted its first neighborhood COVID-19 lockdown after testing about 7,000 people and finding 13 cases as debate swirled over the efficacy of the move.
Over the weekend police moved in to seal off the poor and densely populated of about 150 apartment blocks in Jordan district where clusters of COVID-19 cases had sprung up.
Civil servants went door to door conducting mandatory tests and found 0.17 percent of those tested had the coronavirus.
Some community and business leaders were critical of how the lockdown was implemented, but officials defended the move as proportionate and said they would not rule out similar lockdowns.
“We do not consider this operation a waste of manpower and money,” Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan (陳肇始) told reporters on Sunday.
Hong Kong was one of the first places after Wuhan to be struck by a COVID-19 outbreak and it has recorded just over 10,000 infections and about 170 deaths after imposing effective, but economically punishing disease prevention measures for much of the last year.
However, stubborn clusters of cases had emerged in low-income neighborhoods notorious for some of the world’s most cramped housing.
David Hui (許樹昌), an infectious disease expert advising the Hong Kong government, defended the lockdowns, but urged authorities to move more swiftly to stop residents leaving ahead of any new order.
“The most worrying part is whether the virus might spread outside, as some residents left when they heard the lockdown was coming,” Hui told reporters.
News of the weekend lockdown leaked to local media on Friday last week and residents were seen leaving the area before police arrived that evening.
The neighborhood has a large South Asian population — a community that often faces discrimination and poverty — and there was criticism over how the operation was handled, including pork products in food parcels for Muslim families.
A senior health official last week sparked anger when he suggested ethnic minorities might be spreading the coronavirus more readily because “they like to share food, smoke, drink alcohol and chat together.”
Critics countered that poverty and a lack of affordable housing forcing people to live in cramped conditions were to blame — not ethnicity or culture.
Food delivery companies have also reported that some users have begun requesting no South Asian make deliveries, sparking anger from the territory’s equality watchdog.
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