COVID-19 outbreak hits at weekend, 31 new cases, 48-hour mass testing starts

2022-06-20 03:58     BY Tony Wong    Comment:0

Macau had, as of late last night, confirmed 31 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in its latest novel coronavirus outbreak, which was detected on Saturday night, while the local government has launched a 48-hour mandatory citywide nucleic acid testing (NAT) drive for everyone, which started at 12 p.m. yesterday.

The sources of infections were still not identified by the government late last night.

The authorities said that more new cases were expected to be reported and that the overall situation could worsen.

The authorities described the situation as the most serious since the novel coronavirus pandemic erupted. Macau confirmed its first COVID-19 case in January 2020.

66,797 people test negative for COVID-19

As of 10 p.m. yesterday, according to the Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Centre, 211,779 people had had their swabs for COVID-19 tests under the mass NAT drive, 66,797 of which had come up with a result, all negative.

The detection of the 31 cases came after one of them tested positive for COVID-19 at the private Kiang Wu Hospital on Saturday night after she sought treatment for respiratory symptoms, and another of them, a prison staff member, tested positive in a test conducted under the government’s regular NAT programme for those working in “key” occupations that are potentially subject to a higher COVID-19 risk.

Closures and suspensions

The government announced yesterday that it has decided to suspend all public administration services today and tomorrow, except urgent and indispensable ones. The decision was announced by Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng in an executive order published in the Official Gazette (BO) yesterday.

Ho paid a working visit to the Civil Protection Operations Centre yesterday morning to oversee his government’s fight against the outbreak. 

Various public entities yesterday announced the immediate closures of various public and social facilities and other kinds of venues, such as activities centres, day care centres, day nurseries, exhibition halls, museums, parks, public libraries, and sports facilities.

In addition, the government also announced that all banks and outlets of insurance companies will be closed today and tomorrow. The operations of ATMs and online banking will, however, continue as normal, but operations involving certain services such as deposits and loans will be postponed, a Macau Monetary Authority (AMCM) statement said yesterday.

Various events organised or supervised by the government have been suspended, such as arts and cultural events, the Macau Government Tourism Office’s (MGTO) local tour programme, and sports competitions and events. Driving tests have also been suspended, while examinations for public administration job vacancies have also been postponed.

Visits to the local prison, rehabilitation centres and retirements homes have also been suspended. The government has also urged people not to go to beaches. 

The government yesterday ordered the suspension of in-class teaching at all schools and higher education institutions until further notice.

Only takeaways

Compared to previous local COVID-19 waves, the severity of the outbreak can be judged by the government’s decision to urge restaurants and eateries to refrain from dine-in services and sell only takeaways instead.

The government has urged shops and businesses to close except those essential for maintaining residents’ daily lives. People in the city are urged to stay at home except for going to facilities essential for their daily lives such as supermarkets and wet markets.

The government first announced in the early hours of yesterday that one COVID-19 positive case was detected on Saturday night, after which Ho announced in an executive order that Macau has entered the state of immediate prevention effective from 1 a.m. yesterday.

The first 12 of the 31 cases were announced by Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Elsie Ao Ieong U during a special press conference yesterday morning.

Health Bureau (SSM) Director Alvis Lo Iek Long announced during another press conference yesterday evening that the number of new locally transmitted COVID-19 positive cases had risen to 21.

31 cases include 23 asymptomatic cases

A Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Centre statement late last night announced that as of 10 p.m. yesterday, Macau had reported 31 new local COVID-19 positive cases over the weekend. It is the highest number of new COVID-19 cases ever reported in such a short space of time. 

The 31 COVID-19 carriers, aged between eight months and 89, comprise 21 females and 10 males. Eight of the 31 cases have been classified as confirmed COVID-19 cases as they have come down with symptoms, while the other 23 have been classified as asymptomatic cases as they had not developed any symptoms as of last night.

According to the statement late last night, the centre has been carrying out follow-up measures for 602 other people after epidemiological investigations, including 146 close contacts, 375 who had visited the same places as the COVID-19 carriers at around the same time, and 36 secondary close contacts. No further details about the 31 were provided by the statement.

Details of the first 21 cases

Lo and Health Bureau official Leong Iek Hou announced details of the first 21 COVID-19 carriers during yesterday evening’s press conference.

According to Lo, the 21 COVID-19 carriers comprised 16 females and 5 males, involving two clusters. The first cluster consisted of 17 people, comprising 13 non-resident workers living in one flat, a resident living on the same floor, two colleagues in a restaurant in Nam Van of one of the 13 non-resident workers, and the employer of another, a domestic helper, among the 13, according to Lo.

The 13 non-resident workers and the resident live in Yim Lai Building in San Kio neighbourhood.

The second cluster consisted of four people, comprising a prison staff member, and three relatives whom he had met regularly. The three live in Tat Cheong Building, which is located opposite Yim Lai Building.

Yim Lai Building and Tat Cheong Building have meanwhile been locked down, meaning that all those living there have a red Macau Health Code and are barred from leaving their home except when they collect food and other daily necessities at government counters set up in the area.

In addition to the two buildings, as of last night several other residential buildings in other areas in the city had also been classified as red code zones, including one in Taipa.

Furthermore, as of late last night, several other residential buildings had been classified as yellow code zones, i.e., residents living there have a yellow Macau Health Code, which means that they are allowed to leave their home but are barred from entering various facilities and taking public transport.

Lo said yesterday evening that the government has provisionally decided that the red code zones and yellow code zones will be valid for seven days, and the government would possibly extend the validity to 10 days if Macau continued to report more COVID-19 positive cases.

2 clusters ‘connected in a way’

Lo said that according to the latest findings of the Health Bureau’s epidemiological investigations, it has provisionally concluded that the two clusters “are connected in a way”.

Lo underlined that the government had still not identified the cases’ sources of infection. He added that someone in one of the two clusters might have been infected by someone in the other cluster.

Leong said that most of the 21 COVID-19 carriers had not been outside Macau recently, except two who visited Guangdong around 10 days ago.

Leong said that based on the incubation time of the Omicron variant, the two COVID-19 carriers did not appear to have been infected in Guangdong, but she was quick to add that her bureau did not rule out any possibility.

The ongoing mass NAT drive is being carried out at 53 stations with a total of 342 sampling counters, comprising 28 general stations – where the tests are free of charge, 18 self-paid stations and seven special care stations. The mandatory tests cover all those who are currently in Macau, not just residents.

All those tested will be handed three sets of rapid antigen testing kits to be kept at home for later use.

Ho chaired a meeting at the Civil Operations Centre in Taipa yesterday, pledging that the government will put residents’ health and safety first.

Meanwhile, the Zhuhai health authorities yesterday imposed seven days of home quarantine plus seven days of self-health monitoring for arrivals from Macau.

The Macau government announced yesterday that all those leaving Macau via any checkpoints must present an NAT certificate confirming a negative COVID-19 result valid for 24 hours.

From yesterday, all those entering Macau from Zhuhai must display an NAT certificate confirming a negative COVID-19 result valid for 48 hours. 

People queue for their mandatory and free nucleic acid tests (NATS) outside Patane Market Municipal Complex last night. Photo: Maria Cheang Ut Meng

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