Editorial : COVID-19 outbreaks on construction sites

【明報專訊】The fourth wave of COVID-19 infections has broken out on construction sites repeatedly, and the third runway cluster at the airport has become the latest focus. The risk of cross-infection on construction sites is high because workers come and go frequently, many of them are odd-jobbers, and there are a high number of people accessing the sites. It is easy for the virus to spread when someone is infected. The recent outbreaks in old districts can be traced back to construction site clusters. The government has been sealing off buildings where an outbreak has occurred and conducting mandatory testing there. That, however, mainly targets the lower reaches of the chain of transmission. As the upper reaches are not targeted, it is difficult to eliminate the virus at source. The repeated outbreaks on large-scale government construction sites, one of which has even seen one outbreak after another, imply that there must be a major loophole in anti-pandemic efforts. The role of the Development Bureau and other relevant departments should be reviewed. Construction workers have a hand-to-mouth existence. Property developers are worried that delays in the completion of construction projects will cost them money. It is inevitable that they do not want construction to be suspended. If the authorities, for the sake of "meeting the deadlines for infrastructural projects", handle anti-pandemic work in a haphazard manner, it will be difficult to close these loopholes effectively. The government should require construction site workers to undergo mandatory testing regularly. If more than one person is infected, work must be suspended for 14 days.

Regarding the overall situation of the fight against the pandemic, it is understandable that the government has stepped up mandatory testing before the Chinese New Year. However, as the sealing-off of districts affects residents' lives, it inevitably occasions grumbling. On Monday night the government conducted sealing-off and testing operations at Tsim Sha Tsui, Yuen Long, Hung Hom and Yau Ma Tei. Experts believe that some of these operations are related to the third-runway cluster. Since the fourth wave of infections began, large-scale government construction sites have seen one infection after another. Furthermore, five people on the reconstruction site of Kwong Wah Hospital were infected, so were nine people recently in the third-runway project. These cases are also concerning. The Centre for Health Protection recently said that construction workers are at higher risk and it is worthwhile to arrange them for regular testing. In fact, as early as half a year ago, some experts had asked the government to test construction workers once a week. It is not the first time that the third-runway construction project has seen an outbreak. The Tseung Kwan O-Lam Tin Tunnel has even seen two outbreaks since the fourth wave began. The same problem has repeatedly occurred. Much time has passed, still the government has not closed the loopholes. A review is necessary.

In practice, it is difficult for site workers to prevent COVID-19 infections. Workers handling some types of work find it hard to wear a mask or sanitise their hands frequently. Since workers share lounges adapted from containers, cross-infection is easy. Furthermore, as there are many odd-jobbers and they are highly mobile, it is easy for an outbreak to spread after it occurs. The construction industry says that it launched a plan in late December last year to arrange for professional testing agencies to test workers on site. The Development Bureau said last week that it had provided testing for more than 22,000 workers on 93 construction sites and found four confirmed cases, while others tested negative. The public will inevitably ask: if anti-pandemic efforts are really such a success on construction sites, why have there been so many repeated construction site clusters of infections over the past month with easily five to six (or even more than ten) people infected on a single major site every time? Is it because testing has not been effective? Is it because some people have done a perfunctory job? Or is there another reason? The government must find out the answer. If specific technical difficulties are involved, the government should help the industry overcome them.

明報社評2021.02.03:基建地盤疫情爆不停 漏洞遲遲未堵太費解






adapt : to change sth in order to make it suitable for a new use or situation

perfunctory : done as a duty or habit, without real interest, attention or feeling

overcome : to succeed in dealing with or controlling a problem that has been preventing you from achieving sth

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