Fears of Covid-19 third wave in China skyrocket after lab worker tests positive

Lab workers in Hong Kong have been forced to quarantine after a worker there tested positive for coronavirus.

The University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health previously reported a researcher had become infected on Saturday, with some believing she spread the virus around the facility.

Reports had suggested she contracted the illness after handling samples of coronavirus at the lab, but The University firmly denies this with the lab's leading virologist suggesting the researcher picked the virus up in the community.

A quarantine order was enforced upon 41 workers and staff at the university, who have so far tested negative for Covid-19.

After checking the facility for traces of the virus, 14 out of 37 environmental tests came back positive.

The laboratory was studying non-infectious samples of the virus, with the initially infected researcher handling paperwork and gene-sequencing about the strain of Covid-19.

Samples were also said to have been kept where the researcher regularly ate.

Health officials in the city were quick to downplay the possibility the staffers were infected in the laboratory, and said the researcher had caught coronavirus in the community.

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Professor Malik Peiris confirmed to the South China Morning Post that the 28-year-old researcher, whose infection was announced by the Centre for Health Protection on Saturday, worked in his laboratory.

“She had been on leave before [testing positive], so there was no more likely exposure in the lab,” Peiris said. “She certainly acquired it in the community.”

Peiris said the staffer, who underwent weekly testing, was tested negative two weeks ago. She then went on leave for a few days, returned to work in the lab last Monday and went for a test on Wednesday, where her infection was detected.

He said even if the researcher had become infected at work, it was unlikely she would have tested positive just two days later.

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When asked whether there was a possible outbreak of the coronavirus in the lab, Peiris said “absolutely not”, South China Morning Post reports.

“We have tested all these people, and everybody around that area … they were all negative,” he said, adding that the researcher’s viral load was low.

The incident is reported to have sparked fears of a "third wave" hitting China.

It comes as Hong Kong is set to see its “third wave” of the virus with rising cases.

The country reported their highest daily infections in around a month, at 23.

A majority of Hong Kong’s new cases were imported from abroad, at 19 in one day.

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Eight of the 19 imported cases came from India, which has the second highest cases worldwide.

Seven of the new cases came from Nepal, the came from the Philippines and one came from Sweden.

Authorities have sought to curb the rising infections by stopping all Air India flights for two weeks.

The decision follows a flight from Kuala Lumpur in India to Hong Kong seeing five infected passengers,

Any airline that flies into Hong Kong with five or more people positive for Covid-19 is temporarily suspended from operating in the city under newer emergency health rules.

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Air India has violated this rule before, flying into Hong Kong in August with more than five people infected with the virus.

It comes as Hong Kong’s government reserved billions in funding to hold enough vaccines for double the population of the city.

The government has set aside HK$8.4 billion (£837 million) to place the massive order for Hong Kong’s 7.4 million people.

Health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee has warned a “fourth wave” of cases over the winter could be the worst seen yet.

She said: “The measures will not eradicate the virus without the vaccine but will avoid major outbreaks in the community.”

A government source also stressed the need for vaccines in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

They said: "Not all vaccines will materialise and be available, but if they all do, Hong Kong will have two times the vaccines we need.

“The failure rate of vaccines being developed is very high.”

Hong Kong has seen a total of 5,033 cases of coronavirus since the pandemic started.

It has also reported a total of 103 deaths, according to health ministry statistics.

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