HK tightens COVID controls

2022-01-06 09:14:10China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download
Special: Battle Against Novel Coronavirus

City bans flights from eight countries, reinstates stringent social distancing

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will ban incoming passenger flights from eight countries for two weeks and reinstate stringent social distancing measures to stifle a looming Omicron outbreak, as the city on Wednesday reported 38 infections, of which four are likely to be untraceable, leading to further concerns of hidden transmissions in the community.

Announcing the measures on Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said now is a critical moment for the city to prevent a substantial outbreak.

In light of the increasing number of imported cases and the spread of the Omicron strain in the city and abroad, starting on Saturday, incoming passenger flights from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Canada, France, Pakistan and the Philippines will be barred from entering the city for two weeks. Transit flights from the eight countries will also be banned.

The government will also cancel large-scale public gathering and ban indoor dining after 6 pm from Friday at eateries. It will also close swimming pools, sports centers, bars and clubs, museums, fitness centers, beauty salons, theme parks and other venues for at least two weeks. Local group tours and "cruise to nowhere" trips to international waters will be suspended, while visits to patients in hospitals and long-term care homes are banned as well.

Lam said the government will cancel a scheduled gathering with the new legislature on Thursday and the Hong Kong Cyclothon, which was going to be held on Jan 16.

Lam admitted that the much-anticipated border reopening will be affected by the surge of infections, and that is also why the government is reinstating the stringent measures right away in hopes of containing the outbreak as soon as possible.

She reassured residents that the border reopening process will be restarted when the city reports no local transmissions and untraceable infections for a certain period of time.

Companies are encouraged to adopt work-from-home arrangements, but Lam said the government will not ask civil servants to work remotely and suspend classes at the moment.

Among the 38 confirmed cases on Wednesday, 34 were imported, of which 31 were the Omicron strain. The four likely-to-be untraceable cases have caused further concerns over the fresh outbreak, with the city recording two untraceable infections on Tuesday, signaling hidden transmissions in the community.

As the city's vaccination rate remains at around 70 percent, respiratory specialist Leung Chi-chiu stressed that the priority of vaccination boosters should be for elderly and hospitalized people. Outreach teams sent by the government to help them get jabbed in the coming two weeks will be necessary, Leung said.

Calling it a dire situation, Director of Health Ronald Lam Man-kin told media that stringent measures are needed to contain the spread as there are transmissions in the community.

A contagious cluster caused by a Cathay Pacific flight attendant marks a grave condition of local transmission, and the viral loads in these cases are high, making them highly contagious, he said. Calling for speedy vaccinations, Ronald Lam said that viral loads of unvaccinated positive cases are high in the cluster, while those vaccinated have low viral loads or didn't get infected.

Fears of a fresh outbreak pushed vaccination rates up in Hong Kong as the city on Tuesday saw about 18,000 residents receiving their first COVID-19 shot-the highest since Sept 4, amid a plan to ban the unvaccinated from entering restaurants, libraries, schools and other public facilities starting Feb 24.

In response to the possible spike of new cases, the government on Sunday also put into use 500 beds at the community treatment facility of the Asia World-Expo.


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