Health officials fear Hong Kong has been hit by a Covid-19 "super-spreading" event involving dancing venues and will order everyone who visited any of 14 different locations to take a coronavirus test, as the number of cases in the city continued to climb.
Forty-three Covid-19 infections were confirmed on Saturday, including 13 untraceable ones, while more than 60 initially positive cases were reported.
From Sunday, for five days, party rooms must close, and dancing and live performances at bars, nightclubs and catering venues will be suspended. The government is also considering making its new Covid-19 exposure risk notification app mandatory for some premises.
Among the newly confirmed infections, 21 were related to a dancing cluster, centred on the Wan Chai venue Starlight Dance Club.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said infected students and instructors had visited different dancing spots across the city aside from Starlight.
"We saw there are some signs of spreading. Based on information from the confirmed and preliminary positive cases, they had visited 14 places for dancing," Chuang said.
"We believe that a super-spreading event had probably occurred in the dancing cluster, that's why there was a sudden increase in cases."
She said the health minister would issue a mandatory testing order - the first time for such a move since the law came into effect last Sunday - to people who had visited the 14 venues since the start of the month. They must take a test before Tuesday.
Among the venues were Heavenly Dance in Sheung Wan, Dance Culture in Causeway Bay, Green Apple International Dance School in Tseung Kwan O and Hsin Kuang Banquet Hall in San Po Kong.
As of Saturday, 32 cases were tied to the cluster.
Eight instructors were among the latest confirmed infections, together with one or two people who did not visit the venue but had contact with those who had been there.
Thirteen local infections with untraceable sources were scattered across different districts, and included residents from Wong Tai Sin, Ma On Shan, Fo Tan, Mong Kok and Mid-Levels.
"The number of infections has climbed very rapidly," Chuang said, describing the situation as coming in "full fury".
On enforcing mandatory testing for those who had visited the dancing venues, Chuang admitted there would be challenges in getting hold of everyone.
"Of course, we don't have the list of participants, but subsequently if any of them were found not to comply with the notice, there will be a penalty," she said. "We are advising all of the public who have visited these places to get tested for their own sake and also for their close contacts' sake."
Those who fail to comply with the mandatory testing notice will be issued a fixed penalty ticket of HK$2,000. For those who fail to follow a compulsory order which requires testing within a specific time, the maximum penalty is a HK$25,000 fine and six months' imprisonment.
Seven of Saturday's confirmed cases were imported, and involved two domestic workers from the Philippines and two from Indonesia, and arrivals from Sweden, Britain and the United States.
The city has now recorded 5,560 confirmed cases, with 108 related deaths.
The number of newly logged cases was the highest since August 17, when 44 were reported.
Chinese University respiratory medicine expert Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, who advises the government on its pandemic response, said the rising number of untraceable cases was alarming, noting those infected did not engage in high-risk activities and were spread out across different districts.
"We've seen an exponential rise in cases over the past few days. The government should further tighten social-distancing measures, consider school closures and try to implement work-from-home arrangements. All large-scale indoor events such as concerts and performances need to stop," he said.
Asked about the mandatory testing, Hui said the dance venue operators should have a list of everyone who had visited, which would help health authorities track them down.
Officials also announced the closure of party rooms, with live performances and dancing at bars and nightclubs banned for five days from Sunday. Those found in breach of the regulations face a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and six months' imprisonment.
Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee also revealed she had already secured private doctors' support for compulsory tests on symptomatic patients as early as possible.
Explaining the new restrictions on Saturday, Chan said: "Many of the recent cases were related to gathering, dancing and entertainment activities, so we have to stop these kinds of activities soon to stabilise the pandemic."
Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit Wing-hang said the government would consider making the newly launched Covid-19 contact-tracing application "LeaveHomeSafe" mandatory at some premises, but officials would have to consult experts first.
Cyber Yin, who co-owns the party room brand Party Fun in Mong Kok, said he estimated about half of bookings into early December would be cancelled as a result of the tightened rules.
Leung Lap-yan, founding president of the Licensed Bar and Club Association of Hong Kong, said nightclubs and clubhouses had different licensing requirements and were under different social-distancing rules which could have led to confusion.
"We don't deny that live band performances or dancing at clubs could be a source of infection among the recent cases," Leung said. "It's the right response to ban such activities temporarily but it's another hit on struggling businesses."
Meanwhile, authorities issued a statement to clarify concerns over false positive results of three cabbies and a rehab bus driver who were earlier confirmed as infected.
The initial round of testing was done by KingMed Diagnostics, a private lab.
The Department of Health later confirmed the results but found that the viral load of the samples was very low. The four later tested negative for the virus and were discharged.
After conducting follow-up investigations, authorities said there was no evidence of cross-contamination during processing of the results and that the cases remain confirmed.
The 14 dance venues involved are:
Chasse in Wan Chai Dance Concept in Wan Chai Dance Culture in Causeway Bay Dance Star Academy in Causeway Bay DanzStage Dance Studio in Causeway Bay Green Apple International Dance School in Tseung Kwan O Heavenly Dance in Sheung Wan Hsin Kuang Banquet Hall in San Po Kong "Kam Lai Club" (Chinese name only) located at 3/F, Golden Era Plaza, Mong Kok Matex Club in Sham Shui Po More Dance Fame in Wan Chai Palladium International Dance Club in Tsim Sha Tsui Shining Star Dance Studio in North Point Starlight Dance Club in Wan Chai
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