Carrie Lam says an outbreak in hamsters has led to an increase in COVID infections and is appealing to residents to avoid New Year’s events.
Carrie Lam, leader of Hong Kong, warned that COVID-19 infections could increase exponentially in a congested residential area of the city and said the number of overall cases had increased due to an outbreak in pet hamsters.
Lam, chief executive, has urged Hong Kong people to avoid gatherings ahead of next week’s new moon year, as officials struggled with an outbreak of the highly contagious Omicron variant in Kwai Chung, north of the city’s Kowloon Peninsula.
“We are concerned that the exponential growth of business that we have seen in other parts of the world is now taking place in Kwai Chung,” Lam said on Saturday.
The situation is being tested Hong Kong’s “zero COVID” strategy focused on eliminating the disease, with schools and gyms already closed, restaurants closing at 18:00 (10:00 GMT) and air travel to many hubs cut off or severely disrupted.
Lam spoke to health officials after meetings, saying there was only a “small chance” that city-wide restrictions could be lifted on Feb. 4 as planned.
She said a second Kwai Chung apartment block, home to more than 2,000 people, would be closed for five days.
Officials on Friday closed a first Kwai Chung building for five days after more than 20 cases were linked to it, with food being delivered from outside three times a day and mass testing underway.
By Saturday, officials had recorded about 105 cases in Kwai Chung, including confirmed and preliminary positive tests.
In total, about 16 buildings in the area will experience various restrictions and mandatory tests, affecting about 35,000 residents, Lam added.
Local media reports on Saturday said officials were considering stricter city-wide restrictions, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
On Tuesday, officials killing about 2,000 hamsters of dozens of pet stores after detecting coronavirus in a worker at a store, where 11 hamsters later tested positive for COVID-19.
Lam said cases involving the Delta variant are also on the rise due to the hamster outbreak.
“I understand that pet owners are unhappy … the biggest public interest is to control the pandemic,” Lam said.
Thousands of people have offered to adopt unwanted hamsters amid a public outcry against the government and its pandemic advisers.