Ao Ieong urges residents to avoid travelling to COVID-19-hit Guangdong cities

2021-06-01 03:25     Comment:0

Addressing yesterday’s weekly press conference about Macau’s novel coronavirus situation, Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Elsie Ao Ieong U said that the Macau government is strongly urging residents not to travel to the cities that have been hit by new locally-transmitted COVID-19 cases, Guangzhou and Foshan in particular, in the neighbouring province of Guangdong.

“Neighbouring cities such as Guangzhou, Foshan and Shenzhen have recently reported new locally-transmitted cases. I am attending this press conference today [yesterday] to urge residents to avoid travelling to areas affected by COVID-19 unless necessary,” the policy secretary said.

Ao Ieong noted that an imported COVID-19 case – which is – the Indian variant in Guangzhou has resulted in a string of locally-transmitted cases there, while Macau’s latest COVID-19 patient – the 51st case, which has been classified as imported – has also been diagnosed with carrying the Indian variant.

“We cannot say that Macau has been the ‘Lotus Treasure Land’ so the virus will never enter here,” she said.

Ao Ieong also noted that Macau has reported a number of imported COVID-19 cases where the patients later tested positive for the novel coronavirus again when they were in quarantine in Macau after having previously been infected with COVID-19 and recovered elsewhere.

Ao Ieong reaffirmed that due to these factors it is very difficult for the Macau government to be able to ensure that the city will not be hit by new local COVID-19 cases, adding that therefore the government is urging residents to continue to strictly comply with its COVID-19 prevention measures.

Ao Ieong also mentioned a case in which a local man has been taken to a Health Bureau (SSM) facility for quarantine after he – when visiting a tourist attraction in Guangdong’s northern city of Qingyuan last week – was in close proximity to a person who was later confirmed as an asymptomatic COVID-19 patient in Guangzhou. Moreover, she said, the Health Bureau also has to carry out precautionary measures for 31 other Macau residents who joined the same tour group for the trip to Qingyuan, such as several nucleic acid tests (NATs) and serology tests. According to a Health Bureau announcement on Sunday, while the 31 Macau residents were not near the asymptomatic COVID-19 patient, the bureau had decided to carry out the precautionary measures for them as they were also visiting the tourist attraction.

Ao Ieong said that the case shows that residents travelling outside Macau could pose a COVID-19 risk to community safety.

Ao Ieong also said that the local government has been aware that some of the Macau-Zhuhai checkpoints have been crowded with travellers in recent weeks, which she admitted was posing a COVID-19 risk to Macau. She urged residents who need to cross the Macau-Zhuhai border to choose different checkpoints, also suggesting that they can choose to cross the border when there are smaller traveller flows.

“We can imagine that in case a person who is carrying the virus is crossing one of the checkpoints which are so crowded with travellers, it would become a COVID-19 threat [to Macau],” she said.

Mainland’s quarantine for Macau arrivals again if city is hit by COVID-19

Ao Ieong warned that in case Macau reports new local COVID-19 cases, the “circuit breaker mechanism” on Macau-mainland travelling will be activated, which means that those entering the mainland from Macau would have to undergo quarantine. “No one in Macau wants this situation to happen,” she said.

Ao Ieong noted that the “circuit breaker mechanism” comprises two levels. If the mainland health authorities have classified Macau as a COVID-19 medium-risk area, no residents living in COVID-19 affected areas in the city – based on the Macau government’s implementation of its community-based COVID-19 prevention and control measures – will be able to travel to the mainland without quarantine, according to Ao Ieong.

If Macau has been classified as a COVID-19 high-risk area, namely 10 new local cases having been reported here, the whole city will be subject to the mechanism, which means that no one from Macau will be able to travel to the mainland without quarantine, according to Ao Ieong.

Ao Ieong said that merely one imported COVID-19 case carrying the Indian variant that was detected in Guangzhou has caused the virus to spread there in a short time. In Macau with a higher population density than Guangzhou’s, she warned that if a similar situation occurred here, the virus would spread even faster.

The policy secretary also said that over the past week a total of 48,116 people had made an appointment to be inoculated against COVID-19, when the number of appointments stood at between 7,300 and 8,600 per day. The government is “very satisfied” with the number of vaccination appointments made over the past week, which was significantly higher than previously, she said, adding that 8,600 was the highest number of appointments since the launch of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Walk-in vaccinations to start tomorrow

Meanwhile, Tai Wa Hou, the coordinator of the Health Bureau’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, announced during yesterday’s press conference that walk-in COVID-19 vaccinations will be available at all 15 inoculation facilities in the city from tomorrow.

Under the new measure, according to Tai, potential vaccinees will be able to register for walk-in vaccinations at any inoculation facility if places are still available when they arrive there – i.e. places available after COVID-19 jabs have been administered to all those who have made vaccination appointments for that day.

With the implementation of the new measure, Tai said that the bureau’s COVID-19 vaccination online appointment system will add a new function from tomorrow allowing potential vaccinees to check how many places for COVID-19 vaccinations are still available at particular inoculation facilities.

Tai underlined that after the walk-in COVID-19 vaccinations start, those who have made an appointment will still be given priority over walk-in vaccinees for inoculations.

Meanwhile, Tai revealed that the number of BioNTech mRNA doses currently in Macau is insufficient to meet residents’ need in the near future. According to Tai, 20,560 BioNTech doses were still left as of yesterday. However, Tai said that his bureau has to allocate 15,573 doses for those who have received their first jab but have not yet booked their second shot, and 2,900 doses for those who have booked their second jab.

Consequently, Tai said that from yesterday those who have booked a BioNTech jab for a particular day in the near future would possibly be unable to receive the jab on that day. If this happens, according to Tai, the bureau will inform the potential vaccinees before their scheduled inoculation date and tell them to book a jab for a later date.

Tai reaffirmed that due to its relatively shorter validity, the local government has asked the BioNTech vaccine supplier to deliver mRNA jabs that it has purchased in small quantities each time so as to avoid waste due to vaccine expiration. Tai pledged that the government will make an announcement once a new batch of BioNTech jabs has been delivered to Macau.

Tai also noted that 500,000 Sinopharm inactivated doses have been delivered to Macau, adding that 145,000 people have received their first Sinopharm jab. According to Tai, 144,000 of them have booked their second jab. After they receive their second jab, 210,000 doses will still be available, according to Tai, who said that they would be sufficient for inoculations for the next 30 to 70 days.

NAT required for those with fever

Meanwhile, Health Bureau (SSM) Director Alvis Lo Iek Long announced that from yesterday all those with a fever who seek treatment at the public Conde de São Januário Hospital Centre, the private Kiang Wu Hospital or the University Hospital run by the private Macau University of Science and Technology (MUST) in Taipa are now required to undergo a nucleic acid test (NAT), regardless of whether they have travelled outside Macau and whether they work in sectors that are subject to a high COVID-19 risk. According to Lo, the Macau Health Code colour of those awaiting the NAT result will turn to yellow, until they come up with a negative result. Lo said that the new measure aims to detect COVID-19 infectees as soon as possible.

Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Elsie Ao Ieong U addresses yesterday’s press conference about the city’s novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. Photo: GCS

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