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Supercomputer power to track infection links

By Chen Zimo | | Updated: 2020-02-22 12:49

HONG KONG-The Department of Health has requested that the police deploy a "supercomputer system" to track down people suspected of having contact with patients infected by the novel coronavirus.

The Major Incident Investigation and Disaster Support System, designed for criminal investigations, was first used during the SARS epidemic in 2003 for mapping out the relations among infected patients and their contacts, and for detecting the possible links of transmission of the virus.

The government's move was made public on Friday when 59 police officers were placed under quarantine after a 48-year-old officer they partied with during the incubation period of the novel coronavirus was confirmed infected.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said the details of the project were still under discussion.

The Department of Health has learned that the newly infected police officer, the 69th confirmed case in Hong Kong, had recently visited a restaurant in Yau Tong several times. A 38-year-old female cashier of the restaurant was confirmed to be infected on Thursday.

The officer is stationed at North Point Division in charge of anti-riot duties in the Eastern district, according to police. He had attended a dinner gathering on Feb 18 with 59 colleagues. All of them were ordered to stop work in the early hours of Friday and undergo quarantines at home.

Four have developed symptoms and are waiting to be tested for the virus at hospitals, Chuang said.

Of those being quarantined, 36 officers were on duty in Aberdeen on Thursday evening. The other 23 were stationed in different parts of Hong Kong Island and the Commercial Crime Bureau in Wan Chai, police confirmed.

The 69th patient had performed duties on the Hong Kong Island from Feb 4 to 16, and felt ill on Tuesday. His colleagues on duty with him, who were not listed as close contacts by the Department of Health, were asked to undergo quarantines at home for 14 days, according to a police statement on Friday morning.

Chuang urged people who are ill not to go to work or attend gatherings. She also called on taxi drivers to wear masks and open their windows for ventilation — after a taxi driver was diagnosed on Thursday.

Meanwhile, one of Hong Kong's 69 infected patients was discharged from hospital on Friday, bringing the number of cured cases in the city to six. Four patients in a critical condition showed signs of improvement, Chuang said.

Of the 61 patients still in hospital, 55 are stable and six are in a serious condition.

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