HK escapes variant outbreak by luck: expert

Microbiologist Siddharth Sridhar on Monday said it was “lucky” that a more infectious strain of Covid-19 hadn’t led to a major outbreak in Hong Kong, but added authorities must keep a close eye on the situation.

The University of Hong Kong expert said he believed the situation was now “stable”, but given the long incubation period of the variant, authorities should continue to monitor the situation.

The latest virus scare was triggered after a man who flew in from Dubai in March was found to have the N501Y variant of the coronavirus only after he completed his 21-day quarantine in April.

His girlfriend and three domestic helpers living in different districts were subsequently confirmed to have the same strain of the virus, and it was feared that the virus had spread in the community as officials initially could not find any links between the cases.

It later emerged that the cases were linked after all, and the Dubai arrival and his girlfriend were on Saturday arrested for allegedly lying to officers tracing their contacts.

Sridhar told an RTHK programme that wearing masks probably helped reduce transmission, but added: “We may not be lucky next time. It may cause an outbreak in the community.”

Meanwhile, he welcomed the government’s announcement to relax quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated people, describing it as a move that is worth trying to boost the vaccination rate.

He said it’s unlikely the coronavirus will disappear on its own, the only way out of the pandemic is achieving herd immunity through inoculation.