After a Filipino woman and a newborn child in her care tested positive for two virus mutations, Hong Kong has declared that all international domestic helpers in the city will be subjected to mandatory COVID monitoring.
The 39-year-old Filipina domestic helper had no prior travel experience. In April, she and the baby in her care were diagnosed with a coronavirus variant with the N501Y and E484K mutations. Both mutations are present in a variety of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus variants and are thought to make the variants more contagious and lethal. The Hong Kong government announced on April 30 that all of Hong Kong’s 370,000 international domestic helpers would be subjected to mandatory testing by May 9.
On May 1, numerous inspection stations in Hong Kong, including the Pedestrian Area of Chater Road, the entrance to Hing Fat Street at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, the entrance to Tsuen Wan Park, and the entrance to Lai Chi Kok Park, offered free screening services. Owing to the huge crowds, a large number of international helpers queued up, and some had to wait for hours to complete the exams.
On the same day, Yuen Kwok-yung, a government adviser and professor of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, reported that the virus strain detected in the 39-year-old Philippino domestic helper—the South African variant B.1.351—was the same as the one found in a 29-year-old Indian man who came from Dubai and first broached the virus. According to Yuen, the strain is already known to be circulating in the culture.
Currently, the Hong Kong government mandates mandatory testing of foreign domestic workers in the capital. However, Yuen claims that testing is not a replacement for rapid, layer-by-layer monitoring. Only by monitoring can it be determined when the transmission chain began.
Yuen claimed that the cases expose flaws in the government’s travel ban and quarantine measures. Sampling and testing can be troublesome because there may be false negative cases, allowing the South African version to enter the population. He suggested that newly quarantined individuals, especially those quarantined in Ramada hotels, have their cases checked.
Yuen also mentioned that the laboratories of outsourced research contractors should be tested using random sampling to minimize the occurrence of false negatives or false positives.
BGI Group, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute, is one of Hong Kong’s test kit manufacturers and has recently made several errors with its COVID research. BGI registered nearly 30 false positives in the last week of April, and over 100 people were mistakenly sent to quarantine centers. Aside from the false positives, BGI is accused of missing infected people due to sampling errors.
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) in Hong Kong reported another case of a Philippino domestic helper infected with a variant of the CCP virus on April 24. Eight days after completing quarantine, she was diagnosed at a community testing facility. Antibodies were also found in her body, suggesting that she had been poisoned for a while. Yuen, the microbiology professor, believes the research company made mistakes during screening and therefore failed to identify the virus.
BGI was in charge of the research.
In Hong Kong, there are currently 21 group testing centers, seven of which are operated by BGI. Although the government has suspended BGI’s mobile sampling stations, CEO Carrie Lam has declined to suspend other BGI testing facilities, citing the need to “balance testing capabilities.”