All of the passengers who tested positive flew into Hong Kong on a flight from India‘s capital, run by Indian airline Vistara on April 4.
Hong Kong as a whole has been recording fewer daily new infections than the total number detected on the flight, since it brought a fourth wave of infections under control in January.
Meanwhile in India, the country’s healthcare system is collapsing under a devastating second wave of coronavirus that is killing more than 2,800 people a day in the nation that is home to 1.3 billion people.
A total of 188 passengers could have been on-board the flight, but Hong Kong authorities did not disclose how many people were on the plane.
Health experts have said that there are four reasons why such a high number of people tested positive on the flight. They say the passengers were either infected in India after their pre-flight Covid-19 test, or India’s overloaded health system was unable to accurately detect the cases before they boarded the flight.
Scientists also suggest that the passengers could have picked it up in one of the quarantine hotels in Hong Kong.
Or they say that there could have been those with a particularly severe strain of Covid-19 which could have easily passed around the plane in such a compact space.
At least 52 people from a single flight from Delhi to Hong Kong have tested positive for Covid-19, despite all passengers presenting a negative coronavirus test before boarding. Pictured: An earlier graphic showing the seating plan of 49 passengers who tested positive for Covid-19 – the figure has since increased to 52
Meanwhile in India, the country’s healthcare system is collapsing under a devastating second wave of coronavirus that is killing more than 2,800 people a day in the nation that is home to 1.3 billion people
Workers prepare to bury a person who died of Covid-19 in Gauhati, India, on Sunday
The positive results have surfaced during the mandatory three-week quarantine period enforced by Hong Kong. It is one of the strictest entry measures in the world.
Rashida Fathima, who boarded the flight with her husband and two children, is one of the 52 people who have tested positive at their quarantine hotel since.
Speaking from hospital, Fathima told the Wall Street Journal that she believes she was infected on the flight, despite her family wearing masks for most of the flight and avoiding the bathroom on board.
She revealed that some passengers were coughing repeatedly during the flight while others removed their masks to eat and families walked their crying children through the aisles.
All passengers flying into Hong Kong must present a negative test within 72 hours before departing – and all of the passengers on the Hong Kong flight did so.
Several cases have also been detected on flights arriving into Hong Kong from Mumbai, according to authorities.
All passengers flying into Hong Kong must present a negative test within 72 hours before departing. Pictured: Workers inside the arrival hall at Hong Kong International Airport on 20 April
‘We’re shocked by this,’ said Poonam Nanda, the director of Nanda Travel. ‘This one flight appears to be an astonishing outlier and we are all confounded by these numbers.’
Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist at the Federation of American Scientists, said on Twitter that only eight cases from the flight were detected before hotel quarantine began. The remaining cases were identified during the time in quarantine.
‘If it weren’t for hotel quarantine – [Hong Kong] would have completely allowed these [positive cases] to begin spreading in the community.’ he said. ‘This is why border quarantines are critical.’
India recorded 2,812 Covid deaths overnight and infections in the last 24 hours rose to 352,991 on Monday – a record peak and a new global high for a fifth day running.
Coronavirus infections in India over the last 24 hours rose to 352,991 on Monday – a record peak for a fifth day running
India, with a population of 1.3 billion, has a tally of 17.31 million infections and 195,123 deaths, after 2,812 deaths overnight, health ministry data showed, although health experts say the death count is probably far higher. Pictured: A graph showing new Covid-19 deaths per-day
Health experts, including Feigl-Ding, say there is a chance that some of the 52 passengers who have tested positive on the flight from Delhi were infected in India after their pre-flight Covid-19 test
Health experts, including Feigl-Ding, say there is a chance that some of the 52 passengers who have tested positive on the flight from Delhi were infected in India after their pre-flight Covid-19 test.
‘Some may have occurred after the initial 72 hour pre departure time window after they got tested,’ Feigl-Ding said. ‘India cases increased 60% each week for the last 2 weeks. But this is why our border testing is leaky.’
Scientists also pose the notion that the passengers could have picked it up in one of the quarantine hotels in Hong Kong.
‘It could also be hotel transmission to some degree too,’ said Fiegl-Ding. ‘Hotel room cross infections have been observed in Australia’s hotel quarantine system too.’
Health experts also said India’s overloaded health system could have been unable to accurately detect the cases before they boarded the flight.
Health experts also said there could have been those with a particularly severe strain of Covid-19 which could have easily passed around the plane in such a compact space with people taking off their masks to eat.
Scientists from the University of Hong Kong are now working with the city’s health department to sequence genomes from the passengers who tested positive to try and understand whether they were infected while on board.
It is not known how many – if any – of the passengers on the flight had received a Covid-19 vaccine. At the time of the flight, less then five per cent of India’s population had received at least one dose of the jab.
Indian airline Vistara said they did everything they could to minimise transmission of Covid-19.
Relatives and municipal workers prepare to bury the body of a person who died of COVID-19 in Gauhati, India, Sunday, April 25, 2021. vital life-saving oxygen is in short supply and countries including Britain, Germany and the United States pledged to send urgent medical aid to help battle crisis collapsing India’s tattered healthcare system
‘The risks of air travel are generally quite manageable with staggered seating and consistent mask usage, especially when using toilet facilities,’ said Siddharth Sridhar, a clinical virologist at the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Microbiology.
Hong Kong has since banned all flights from India, Pakistan and Philippines from April 20 to May 3 following detection of a mutant Covid strain called N501Y.
Dr Leung Chi-Chiu, a specialist in respiratory medicine, argued that the two-week ban was not enough, reports RTHK.
He said the ban should last until the situation in the three countries improves.
‘We will have to keep this ban unless the situation there improves or unless we have devised other measures to reduce the chance of importation of these dangerous variants into Hong Kong,’ he said.
Hong Kong was one of the first areas hit by the pandemic but strict border controls and lockdown measures have kept infections to just over 11,000 with 209 deaths.
But in contrast, India is on its knees.
Daily Covid-19 deaths hit a record peak of 2,812 on Monday as morgues ran out of stretchers forcing medical workers to use blankets to transport corpses – and relatives of coronavirus patients are wandering the streets of the capital in search of a hospital with open beds.
The percentage change in daily Covid infections by Indian state today compared to at their peak, most of which were recorded last year
Trees from parks in the worst-hit areas are set to be chopped down and used to burn bodies because crematoriums are unable to keep up with demand.
And Indian social media videos have depicted other hellish scenes including a body falling from an overloaded ambulance and a son abandoning his Covid-stricken mother on the street.
Meanwhile, oxygen is in short supply as countries including Britain, Germany and the United States have pledged to send urgent medical aid to help battle the the second deadly wave that is collapsing India’s tattered healthcare system.
India recorded 2,812 Covid deaths overnight and infections in the last 24 hours rose to 352,991 on Monday – a record peak and a new global high for a fifth day running. Experts say the second wave will peak in May at up to 500,000 deaths a day, meaning around 5,000 people could die every day at the current case fatality ratio of 1.14%
On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged all citizens to get vaccinated and exercise caution, while hospitals and doctors have put out urgent notices saying they were unable to cope with the rush of patients.
Nearly all intensive care unit (ICU) beds used to treat Covid patients in three of India’s most populated regions – Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad – are full, meaning they are being forced to run away patients, leaving families to ferry people sick with coronavirus from hospital to hospital in search for treatment and patients dying on pavements outside.
People wearing protective face masks wait to receive a vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, April 26, 2021. On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged all citizens to get vaccinated and exercise caution