An HKU laboratory staff who has handled the COVID-19 related research was contracted COVID-19 last week. The remaining colleagues were sent to the quarantine centres and tested negative. However, some environmental sampling swabs taken from the lab contained the virus.
The staff is working in the centre of Influenza Research, one of the twelve WHO H5 Reference Laboratories in the world. WHO H5 Reference Laboratories are responsible for the laboratory services for H5 and other animal influenza viruses and developing the vaccines.
Although the staff has been in contact with the coronavirus before, none of her colleagues was found positive after the testing. For the sake of employees’ safety, the Centre for Health Protections swabbed the environmental samples from the laboratory, and 14 of 37 samples contained the virus.
However, HKU did not notify the students about this incident. A final-year nursing student, Chan, concerned about the safety of the campus as she still needs to attend physical lab sessions in the Sassoon Road Campus which is near the laboratory.
“The School of Nursing communicate with us through Whatsapp or email, but we have never been informed of this incident. I know about the confirmed case of HKU staff from news media.” Chan said.
Infection control measures such as placing Infrared Thermographic Systems and alcohol-based hand rub in the main entrance of the building have been implemented. However, the general public still can access to 6/F of the laboratory block where the staff is working in without any prior identity checking.
“As HKU resumes face-to-face teaching, the risk of COVID-19 spreading increases. I want to know whether the laboratory is still in operation and continue the research on COVID-19. I hope HKU will update the latest status of the lab and teaching arrangements in light of this incident,” Chan said.
However, the School of Public Health and the responsible person of the lab, Professor Malik Peiris did not respond to the enquiries about the follow-up action taken by HKU such as additional precautionary measures of the laboratory and teaching arrangements for students.