Covid-19 Feb 19

Second death in HK rekindles SARS memory

Many domestic workers are worried about the coronavirus while their employers feel they should not go on holiday now

by Jeff Pao
Second virus death in HK
Shek Yee House, Shek Lei (II) Estate in Kwai Chung. Photo: Google Maps

A 70-year-old Hong Kong man who visited the mainland four weeks ago passed away on Wednesday morning, making him the second person to die of the virus in Hong Kong.

The man, who lived alone in Shek Yee House, Shek Lei (II) Estate in Kwai Chung, had developed shortness of breath and a cough with sputum on February 2. He did not consult a doctor. 

On February 12, he had a fall at home and was sent to Princess Margaret Hospital, where he was found to have a fever and desaturation. He was immediately sent to the intensive care unit and remained in a critical condition. 

He told the medical staff he did not go to the mainland. However, the Department of Health later found that he had a day trip through the Lok Ma Chau Control Point on January 22.

On February 14, the man was identified as the 55th infected person in the city. Meanwhile, three paramedics and two firefighters who took the man to hospital have had to go into quarantine. 

At 7:22am on Wednesday, the man was pronounced dead in hospital.

Prior to the infection, the victim had chronic diseases such as diabetes, high-blood pressure and kidney disease, Chuang Shuk-kwan, director of the Centre’s Communicable Disease Division, said in a Hong Kong media briefing on Wednesday. 

This was the second death in Hong Kong linked to the Wuhan disease after a 39-year-old Hong Kong man died in hospital on February 4. 

The first deceased, who also suffered from diabetes, visited Wuhan between January 21 and 23. His mother was later confirmed to be infected although she had not traveled overseas in the short term.

Also on Wednesday, a 83-year-old woman was identified as the 63rd person with the virus in Hong Kong, according to the Centre for Health Protection. She was sent to Tuen Mun Hospital last Saturday after taking a fall at home and had bone surgery on Sunday. 

She was isolated after telling medical staff her 54-year-old son-in-law and 46-year-old daughter had been found to have the virus on Sunday and Monday. Eleven medical staff, mainly from the operating room and orthopedics department in Tuen Mun Hospital, have had to be quarantined. 

The Centre for Health Protection said they were trying to find out if the husband of patient No. 63 was the original virus-carrier, as he had developed a cough after a visit to Zhangmutou, Dongguang in late January. 

Chuang also said the Centre for Health Protection had called two friends of the 32-year-old Filipino domestic worker, who was infected by her female employer and identified as the 61st case in Hong Kong. She said the two Filipina did not show any symptoms of illness and were not required to be quarantined.

Chuang said the centre was searching for one more close-friend of the infected Filipina and several more people who attended a one-hour gathering with her outside the Hong Kong City Hall in Central on February 9.

Since the Wuhan virus emerged in Hong Kong in late January, at least six domestic workers in Hong Kong have reportedly been ordered into quarantined in holiday camps or self-quarantined at their employer’s home.

Domestic workers have been worried that they would be infected at their workplaces, while some employers said they feared their domestic workers would get the virus on their holidays. 

Betty Yung, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, told RTHK that some families were scared to “allow” their employees to go out on holidays. 

“Before, many employers were willing to let their domestic helpers go out on their holidays, but now they are really frightened in case some domestic helpers get infected and they bring the disease back to their home,” she said.

Yung said employers should try to negotiate with their workers, by explaining the current situation regarding the outbreak, and making it clear that the reason they don’t want them to go out on their days off is “just because they love them.”

About 77% of the surveyed domestic workers said they were scared of or a little worried by the coronavirus, but added they would stay in the city to work, according to a recent survey carried out by HelperChoice, a digital platform matching employers with foreign domestic workers.

About 6.8% said they were very worried and considering working in another place while the remaining 15.9% said they were not afraid of the epidemic.