HONG KONG (Reuters) - Four people evacuated from a residential building in Hong Kong where a man and woman confirmed with coronavirus lived have showed symptoms of the flu-like virus, fuelling concerns of a community outbreak in the Chinese-ruled city.
The government said it was investigating drainage pipes in the building in Tsing Yi district in the New Territories amid worries the virus may have been spread through the system as the city goes on high alert to contain an outbreak.
Parts of Hong Kong, including restaurants, shopping malls and cafes, are almost deserted as people work from home and schools remain closed, invoking memories of 2003 when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) sent panic across the city.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam 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.”
Authorities evacuated more than 100 residents in 35 households in the early hours of Tuesday, local media reported, after two residents from the high-rise building were confirmed to have contracted coronavirus.
The government said on Tuesday the occupants of 23 households in the Tsing Yi housing complex had been sent to quarantine centers, while it was still trying to make contact with people from nine housing units.
The director of the Centre for Health Protection said authorities were investigating the suspected “environmental transmission” of the two confirmed cases.
Most of Hong Kong’s population of more than seven million people live in high-rise buildings. In 2003, high concentrations of viral aerosols in building plumbing in the Amoy Gardens high-rise complex were drawn into apartment bathrooms through floor drains. The initial exposures occurred in these bathrooms.
SARS killed nearly 300 people in Hong Kong.
The government has confirmed 42 cases of coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,000 people, almost all in mainland China.
Embattled Lam is grappling with a health scare even as she faces broader tensions in Hong Kong society where months of often-violent anti-government protests paralyzed parts of the global financial center.
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; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Jacqueline Wong