Hong Kong and Singapore Battling COVID-19 Despite Increased Rules

Hong Kong and Singapore confronted with new COVID-19 cases in port
Hong Kong's container terminal (file photo)

Published Aug 17, 2020 8:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

Fears over the further spread of the coronavirus had prompted both Hong Kong and Singapore to once again tighten their rules related to crew changes and ship movements in and out of their ports. Despite the efforts by authorities in both ports, they are nonetheless confronting new clusters of the virus.

Over the weekend, Hong Kong’s public health authorities went public regarding a large and growing cluster of the virus at the territory’s primary container port. About a week ago, the authorities began listing the Kwai Tsing Container Terminal as one of the areas with a cluster of the virus. At first, they reported 10 cases of COVID-19 but according to the Hong Kong Standard, it has grown to a total of 65 cases tied to the port as of today, August 17.  

Briefing the media on the current outbreak, Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection warned that while steps had been taken at mitigation there could be additional community spread within the port terminals. One specific area in one of the buildings had been identified as a break room used by some of the infected port employees. It was closed and disinfected and the authorities are instructing everyone in the port to use caution, maintain social distance, and increase disinfection. 
Several weeks ago fearing the spread of the virus, Hong Kong had suspended most crew changes at the port. They restricted vessels only to ones working cargo coming into and out of the port and even then had restrictions on the crew. The authorities said the cause of the cluster was still under investigation.

The challenge for Hong Kong is that this is its primary container port maintaining the flow of goods into Hong Kong. The authorities said they were still investigating and working to determine what additional actions might be required. Over the weekend, the trade organization representing the port employees said it was not in favor of closing the entire port suggesting that the cluster was contained to certain areas and individual terminal operators.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Center for Health Protection’s communicable diseases department, speaking at a press conference reported said that as many as 100 employees worked and lived in close quarters at the one terminal that has been linked to the current cluster. However, Reuters reported that she said testing at the port would be expanded to as many as 8,000 people who work across the port.

At the same time, Singapore’s Ministry of Health on August 15 also issued a statement about the latest outbreak tied to its port. Like Hong Kong, Singapore had restricted crew changes and set tight protocols after reports of abuse of the crew change protocols across the region.

According to the report, a vessel arriving in Singapore underwent routine testing for its crew and a total of 15 Filipino crew members aboard an unidentified ocean-going vessel tested positive for COVID-19 on August 12. The Bahamian-flagged ship had arrived in the Singapore area on August 8 from India and under Singapore’s enhanced protocols the testing was done before any crew members were permitted onshore. However, one person went aboard the ship from shore to assist with repairs and that person tested positive for the virus as one of the three community cases Singapore reported on August 15.

The crew members that tested positive were transferred to a hospital onshore while the vessel with its additional crew has been placed in a strict quarantine. To prevent any interaction with the crew, supplies are being lifted up to the ship to prevent physical contact.