Hong Kong’s third wave of COVID-19 infections has raised questions about the risk and possibility of imported infections arriving by cargo ships and among the crew members, as cases continue to hit a record high of 123 coronavirus infections, as of Friday, 24th August 2020.
In a similar condition earlier this year, Diamond princess cruise liner had to initiate a lockdown on the vessel in Yokohoma, Japan after 700 people on board were infected, consisting of 76 Hongkongers, 3 of whom died. It is unlikely to have a case of this magnitude re-occur as vessels now operate at lower capacities and can be quarantined with adequate spacing.
There are about a 100 seafarers stranded onboard their vessels and quarantining themselves after each of the ships confirmed at least one positive case among its crew. This news can come as a source of over-burdening to hospitals, as an outbreak of cases in one of the busiest ports of Asia will only add significant numbers to the tally of the COVID-19 cases.
8 cases have been imported, raking up the city’s count to 2371. These include seafarers from the Philippines, Russia, Montenegro, and India, along with returnees from Pakistan. A possible new threat could be incoming from the 6 cargo ships currently in its waters, the members of whom were known to have been infected.
Hong Kong had previously aided the movement of crew change and repatriation when it introduced unrestricted crew changes from the 9th of June, 2020 with no two-week quarantining or testing requirements.
By the end of June, 9 crew members of the MSC Flavia containership, who embarked from Hong Kong were confirmed to be positive, a number that later increased to 11 seafarers onboard.
The government’s decision to not test air and sea crews is considered to be one of the errors made that might have caused the third wave of a community outbreak of cases, mentioned David Hui Shucheong, a professor in respiratory medicine, Chinese University, HK.
The shipping industry is now left worrying about the progress of crew change, repatriation, and ease of travel restrictions to aid over 200,000 stranded (and a similar number of unemployed) seafarers globally. This can also further discourage other countries to provide crew-change facilitation and or ease regulations for the incoming seafarers.