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Can COVID-19 be transmitted through water pipes? The story of a Hong Kong evacuation

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Medical personnels wearing protective suits wait near a block's entrance in the ground of a residential estate, in Hong Kong, on February 11, 2020
Medical personnels wearing protective suits wait near a block's entrance in the ground of a residential estate, in Hong Kong, on February 11, 2020   -  
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Anthony Wallace/AFP
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Health authorities in Hong Kong quarantined roughly 100 residents living in the same apartment complex after two residents tested positive for the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

The residents affected by the illness — a 62-year-old woman and a 75-year-old male patient — lived on separate floors of Hong Mei House, sparking fears that the virus could be transmitted through drainage pipes.

Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection said they were investigating whether or not the two cases were linked and urged residents to clean and disinfect pipes and putting down the toilet lid before flushing.

Fears from 2003

Hong Kong is still reeling from memories of the SARS outbreak in 2003 which killed over 100 people in the region.

More than 300 of the cases of SARS in Hong Kong had been linked to a large apartment complex in which the virus spread through the sewage system and environmental contamination, a Hong Kong government investigation found.

Transfer to quarantine centres

On expert recommendation, the government quarantined residents living in all units numbered 07 on 30 separate floors. About 100 residents from those households were being transferred to quarantine centres from the residence located in the northwest of the city, the Centre for Health Protection said.

In the apartment where the 62-year-old woman was living, "the vent pipe at the toilet which was altered without permission has been sealed up," authorities said.

"The public is strongly urged to maintain at all times strict personal and environmental hygiene which is key to personal protection against infection and prevention of the spread of the disease in the community," a spokesperson for the health department said.

The novel coronavirus — officially called COVID-19 — was first reported in late December in Wuhan, China. There are currently 50 cases of the virus in Hong Kong and people arriving from mainland China are required to undergo quarantine for 14 days.

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