Monday, January 24, 2022

Hong Kong bans some incoming flights, tightening domestic COVID-19 restrictions

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HONG KONG () – Hong Kong on Wednesday announced a two-week ban on incoming flights from eight countries and tightened local COVID-19 restrictions as officials feared a fifth wave of coronavirus would hit the city.

FILE PHOTO: “Spectrum of the Seas” Royal Caribbean cruise ship at the Kai Tak cruise terminal in Hong Kong, October 22, 2021. / Tyrone Siu

The latest restrictions were announced when health authorities inspected the city for contact with COVID-19 disease, some of which were on a Caribbean royal ship, which ordered it to shorten the “nowhere cruise” and return to port.

Flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the United States, including reciprocal flights, will be banned from January 8 to January 21, Hong Kong President Kerry Lam told reporters on Wednesday.

Lam said the government will ban indoor dining after 6pm on Friday and close swimming pools, sports centers, bars and clubs, museums and other venues for at least two weeks. Future cruise trips will be canceled.

“We don’t see a fifth wave yet, but we’re on the verge,” Lam said.

The Global Financial Center has isolated itself more from the world and clung to the zero-Covid strategy by applying a horrific and costly quarantine regime.

On December 31, the three-month series without collective cases ended with the first local launch of the new Omicron variant.

Since then, officials have tried to monitor and test hundreds of people who have been in contact with a handful of Omicron patients. However, one patient had nothing to do with it, which increased the fear of a major outbreak.

“We are concerned that there may be silent transmission chains in the community,” Lam said. “Some confirmed cases had a lot of action before they knew they were infected.”

On New Year’s Eve, a contact search campaign was launched by a patient who danced with about 20 friends in Central Park. A positive result was recorded in the initial tests of two dancers, one of whom was a house assistant.

The assistant’s employer and eight other close associates then embarked on a cruise on Jan. 2.

As part of the coronavirus restrictions, Hong Kong has restricted cruises to short voyages in nearby waters, asking ships to operate at low power and allow only vaccinated passengers who have passed a negative test for the virus.

There were about 2,500 passengers and 1,200 crew on board the Spectrum of the Seas, which returned an early day. Officials said nine passengers in close contact were separated from the rest of the people on board, and initial tests conducted during the trip yielded negative results.

“The Marine Spectrum is taking appropriate action as directed by the Department of Health,” the Royal Caribbean said in a statement.

Nine close contacts have been sent to a quarantine center, while the remaining passengers and staff will have to undergo several mandatory tests in the coming days, the government said.

A separate government statement said people in dozens of locations across Hong Kong were given notifications of mandatory tests while in close contact with the latest patients.

Victoria Park in central Hong Kong, the newly opened M + Museum of Modern Art, ferry piers, restaurants, shops, clinics are among the registered places.

Gabriel Leung, dean of Hong Kong University medicine and government adviser, told RTHK public broadcaster that the city had “five to 10 invisible transmission chains.”

“There’s no time in vain,” Leung said. “We need automatic shutdown measures.”

Interviews by Twinny Siu, Jesse Pang, Edmond Ng, Donnie Kwok and Marius Zachariah; Written by Marius Zaharia; Edited by Michael Perry and Simon Cameron-Moore

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