Dr. Wong Ka-Hing, the head of the territory’s Center for Health Protection, said at a press conference on Tuesday local time that the government is investigating the suspected environmental transmission of the new virus related to two cases in the building, Reuters reported.
Health officials said the evacuation was implemented after a 62-year-old woman in Room 7 on the third floor of Hong Mei House at Cheung Hong Estate became infected, becoming the 42nd case in Hong Kong, according to the South China Morning Post.
A man who lived several floors above her on the 13th floor of the building was also confirmed to have been infected with the virus days earlier, officials said. They said their apartments share the same drainage system added that the system is being investigated as a possible method of transmitting the virus.
As a result, 35 apartments linked to the same drainage system were evacuated, and residents were placed under medical supervision, officials announced, according to the Morning Post.
“As the pipeline that transfers feces is connected to the air pipe, it’s very likely for the virus in the feces to be transmitted through the air fan into the toilet,” Yuen Kwok-yung, a virology lecturer at the University of Hong Kong said in the press conference, according to Hong Kong media. But he stressed the transmission route still is not clear.
“We consider that there could be a potential risk of infection of the second [person] who lives in this building… but we are not sure at the moment [of] the exact route of transmission,” Wong said, reported the Hong Kong Free Press. “It could be the usual droplet transmission but there is the environmental factor which is [somewhat] unique in these two cases as they live in the same building, so we cannot exclude the possibility.”
Wong stated that it’s not clear how many residents shared the drainage system. Those who showed symptoms will be placed under medical isolation as a precaution, Reuters reported.
The 62-year-old infected woman started coughing on Feb. 3 before she sought help from a doctor several times over several days. She was then taken to Princess Margaret Hospital and was isolated, according to health officials, which said she is now in stable condition.
On Jan. 18 and Jan. 19, the unnamed woman visited nearby Macau, and her son and daughter-in-law who lived with her showed symptoms of the virus as well, according to the Morning Post’s account. They were sent to the hospital, while her husband and grandson are being quarantined. It’s not clear if the family members were confirmed to have contracted the virus.
Tens of thousands of cases have been reported in mainland China, and it is believed to have first spread around Wuhan and Hubei Province. Dozens of cities around China have been placed under full or partial lockdown, including financial hub Shanghai and capital Beijing.
Social media users and citizen journalists in China, however, suspect that the number of cases and deaths are far higher than officially reported and have blamed the ruling Chinese Communist Party for engaging in a cover-up and censoring reports about the outbreak.
The evacuated building is located in the New Territories district of Tsing Yi.