Three suspected Thai bargirls working in Hong Kong sit at the center of a new cluster of coronavirus cases sparked there by a young, infected student who visited a hostess bar in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The outbreak feared to be spreading through the Thai community in Kowloon was ignited by a 26-year-old woman now known as Hong Kong Covid-19 Case 5098. Three other Thai women in close contact with her, including another two thought to be bar hostesses, have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past 10 days.

Case 5098 was infected by a 22-year-old local student who visited China Secret, an unmarked hostess bar on tiny Hart Avenue in the Yau Tsim Mong red-light district of Kowloon, on Sept. 23. The bar, which has no liquor license and no outside signage, operated behind Club Bro, a dark watering hole that does have a booze license.

Case 5098 along with her two infected friends, ages 35 and 38, have been stranded in Hong Kong since March to where they traveled on tourist visas. The 26-year-old’s visa expired on Sept. 30, a day before she tested positive and was hospitalized.

The South China Morning Post reported Tuesday that the woman was one of Thai 10 sex workers who paid a Hong Kong agent 6,500-13,500 baht to work in bars as hostesses. Thais can enter Hong Kong without visas for 30 days and have their stays extended at local immigration offices.

Police were quoted as saying the woman denied being a hostess, claiming she only went to China Secret to “hang out”.

It wasn’t confirmed whether her two older friends also worked at China Secret or two other well-known Thai hostess bars nearby, although they, too, were on expired tourist visas.

The fourth infected Thai woman, age 27, holds a Hong Kong identification card and claimed to be a housewife. She, however, was in close contact with Case 5098 and lied to public health officers, saying the accused hostess had returned to Thailand.

The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection, which was trying to trace all the bargirl’s contacts, plans to file criminal charges against the housewife for obstructing the investigation and helping to broaden the outbreak.

China Secret – which is now closed and has erased itself from social media – was said to have violated crowd limits and social distancing regulations with seven tables full of carousing men and sex workers socializing closely with no masks.

There also were six employees and four other Thai women with Hong Kong identity cards who worked as “fighters”: Hostesses paid to play drinking games and keep guests company.

Police said it was likely that, in addition to drawing salaries by the bar, the Thai women arranged illicit liaisons with customers for cash after hours.

Hong Kong health officials have worried aloud that illegal workers in the city make it harder for public-health authorities to quash outbreaks when they happen, as most will not come forward to be tested or lie about other illegals they know.

Doctors have said that if Hong Kong wants to conquer the virus, it needs to track down illegal sex workers and others in the former British colony and deport them.

The Centre for Health Protection this week turned to the Thai consulate there for assistance, supplying officials there with coronavirus self-testing swab kits they can give to the approximately 100 Thais who visit there each day.

A consulate employee told local media it would not force the kits upon Thai nationals, but make the swab bottles available upon request.