COVID-19 clusters identified in crew calling at Hong Kong, Singapore

People ashore watch the Diamond Princess cruise ship that sat anchored in quarantine off the port of Yokohama on 4 February 2020. Credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images

COVID-19 clusters have emerged among a group of port workers in Hong Kong and among the crew of a ship that arrived in Singapore for bunkering.

Health authorities are racing to contain an outbreak at Hong Kong’s Kwai Tsing Container Terminal, with 41 of the 55 cases comprising workers at a stevedoring company.

Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch head, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, said at a press conference on 16 August 2020 that the 41 infected workers are employed by the Wang Kee Port Operation Services.

Dr Chuang explained that the resting room at Wang Kee’s premises may have caused the spread of the virus.

She said, “They have a resting room with some beds, toilets, and showers, and workers share those facilities and sometimes sleep there to rest overnight. So, it’s just like a hostel or a big family [area where] people share items and sleep in the same place.

“So, that [arrangement] will contribute to the transmission [of COVID-19] because it’s just like transmission within a family. If you share items, stay together, and live together, then the chance of transmission is very high.”

She added that it is also plausible that some infected Wang Kee workers may have spread the virus to other companies’ employees who also work at the container terminal, although they are all required to wear masks at work.

Dr Chuang continued, “So, the chance of transmission may be higher when they take off their masks during rest [time], having lunch, breakfast, or showers, etc.”

On 15 August 2020, Singapore’s Health Ministry said that a crew member working on board an oceangoing ship tested positive for COVID-19 in Singapore. The unnamed Bahamas-flagged ship had arrived in Singapore.

Fourteen other crew members on board the same ship were later confirmed to have COVID-19.

The ship had arrived from India on 8 August for bunkering and repairs and none of its crew members disembarked. Swabbing was done on board the ship, where they remained until their COVID-19 test results came back.

The 15 crew members who tested positive were transferred ashore and conveyed via ambulance directly to a hospital. The remaining crew members are currently quarantined on board the ship. Provisions are supplied to the crew on board to minimise physical contact.

The ship is currently quarantined with no ongoing operations and will be thoroughly disinfected.

There have been a number of crew outbreaks of COVID-19 in recent months, including on board a Russian fishing trawler Regul and MSC Flavia in July.

In a non-related incident, seafarers reached out to SAS last month to raise concerns over a lack of personal protective equipment and protections from shore workers coming aboard, fearing that they might bring COVID-19 on board.