“Our followers were not sensitive enough . . . we deeply regret and feel sad about the coronavirus cluster infection,” the Buddhist temple, Fook Wai Ching She, said in a public statement carried by local media. “We were caught off-guard at the time, when one after another Buddhist disciples and their relatives were infected, which also caused anxiety and alert from the media. Meanwhile, we completely lacked experience and have not cooperated well with the government personnel and members of the press. We sincerely feel sorry about it.” (South China Morning Post)
Established in the densely populated North Point neighborhood of Hong Kong Island in 1958, Fook Wai Ching She, acknowledged that the rash of infections was the result of a lack of consensus among the temple’s followers on whether to close the hall to public gatherings during the recent Lunar New Year period in late January.
According to local health officials, traces of the virus were found inside the hall, on a faucet and some books, after public gatherings were held at the temple over the Chinese New Year period, during which attendees shared vegetarian meals. The authorities closed Fook Wai Ching She in February, while an investigation was ongoing.
At the time of writing on Thursday, the health authorities in Hong Kong had reported 130 officially confirmed cases of COVID-19, with two people dead and 59 recovered. Globally, coronavirus infections were reported to total 127,064, with 4,634 deaths so far confirmed. The majority of coronavirus infections and fatalities have occurred in mainland China, which has reported a death toll of 3,169 people and a total of 80,793 infections, according to official data from the Chinese health authorities. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is believed to have first spread from an illegal wildlife market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in central Hubei Province. The World Health Organization has estimated the mortality rate from the virus at 2–5 per cent, with the elderly and people with underlying health conditions considered most at risk.
Maylun Apartments in North Point. From maps.google.com
The 19 COVID-19 infections from the small Hong Kong temple include the temple’s 43-year-old “master” or sifu, temple-goers, and members of their families. The head of the temple, who lives on site, was diagnosed last week, although has reportedly exhibited no symptoms. Media reports citing medical sources said that the monk had traveled to Xiamen in China’s Fujian Province and Emei in Sichuan Province in January.
“We are not sure when he developed the disease, because he is asymptomatic,”said Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease division at Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP), speaking at a press conference earlier this month. “There are several possibilities. One is that he contracted the virus from visitors and now the incubation period has passed, another is that he contracted [the virus] at an earlier stage but never developed symptoms.” (South China Morning Post)
More than 200 temple attendees have so far made themselves known to the authorities, but health officials were reported to be having difficulty tracing all visitors to the Buddhist hall in January and February.
“According to our understanding at present, [the temple] is run by volunteers and there’s no registration system, so it’s difficult for us to track down visitors,” said Dr. Chuang in February. (Straits Times)
Fook Wai Ching She expressed hopes for an early end to the spread of the virus, which the World Health Organization acknowledged on Wednesday has become a global pandemic: “We pray with our most sincere heart that . . . all infected patients will recover soon, the epidemic will soon end, social order will be restored, and people will be at ease.” (South China Morning Post)