COVID-19 outbreak hits workforce at Port of Hong Kong

COVID-19 outbreak hits workforce at Port of Hong Kong
The port remains operational

Kwai Tsing container terminals have emerged as a hotbed for the latest wave of COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong, with the hub responsible for nearly half of the region’s 74 reported cases on August 16.

A mass screening at the terminals found that 34 people, including 33 employees from Wang Kee Port Operation Services Limited, tested positive for COVID-19, with most of them showing no symptoms.

Initial investigations have revealed shared employee facilities to be the likeliest source of infection at the site, where a total of 65 positive cases have been counted since the start of the pandemic.

The infected staff members mostly worked outdoors unloading, handling or inspecting containers, while some part-time workers also helped to move and arrange goods.

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s Communicable Disease Branch, said: “We are still discussing what to do [if there’s a bigger outbreak], but shutting down the whole terminal would be a big deal, as many of the city’s goods and products are from there.”

“More than a hundred staff working for Wang Kee use the same common area. [They] eat, relax, shower inside, sleep over and live like a family. That would contribute to the high transmission.”

A statement from the Hong Kong Container Terminal Operators Association (HKCTOA) called for the port to remain operational, highlighting its importance in the daily lives of Hong Kong’s residence, bringing in essential goods such as food products, medical supplies and other daily necessities.

The HKCTOA noted that operations at the Kwai Tsing Container Port are normal and the members are working closely with the government to take all necessary actions to contain the virus spread within the port area.

A spokesperson of association said: “We understand that the concerned contractor has been withdrawn from the facility and the Centre for Health Protection has arranged all of its staff to be isolated for quarantine. The concerned rest area has also been disinfected and is no longer in use.

“There are a number of contractors at the Kwai Tsing container port covering a total land area of 279 ha. Workers mainly work separately and staff of the concerned contractor had little interaction with workers of other companies.”

The spokesperson continued: “Stevedore workers are needed to perform duty on board the vessels and they conduct their duty in the outdoor area and do not need to go inside the ship’s bridge and other indoor area. Moreover, terminal operators have put in additional resting areas and separated workers by groups to substantially reduce risks of cross-contamination.”