Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

Hong Kong has announced a two-week ban on incoming flights from eight countries and tightened coronavirus restrictions after cases of the Omicron variant were detected.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam told reporters on Wednesday that incoming flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the United States, including exchanges, would be banned from January 8 to January. word. 21.

The government will ban indoor dining from Friday after 6 p.m., she said, and will close swimming pools, sports centers, bars and clubs, museums and other places for at least two weeks.

All cruises were also canceled, she said. Earlier Wednesday, a ship carrying 3,700 passengers and crew was ordered to cut short its “voyage to nowhere” and return to port for mass testing after nine people were tracked down as close contacts of an Omicron case.

“We still have to see a fifth wave, but we are on point,” said Lam.

Like mainland China, Hong Kong has pursued a zero-COVID-19 strategy and maintained some of the world’s most stringent measures throughout the pandemic, including virtually closed borders, week-long quarantines, targeted restrictions and mass testing.

It kept cases low, with the area of ​​7.4 million people reporting just over 12,000 cases and 213 deaths since the pandemic began. But the strict measures have left residents cut off from the rest of the world.

On December 31, a three-month streak without community affairs ended with the first local transfer of the Omicron variant.

Authorities have since scrambled to track down and test hundreds of people who were in contact with a handful of Omicron patients.

However, one patient had no known links, which raises fears 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 activity before they were aware they were infected.”

Lam said the government would not suspend classes for the time being “for the benefit of children”.

The latest contact-finding campaign was fueled by a patient who danced in a central park with about 20 friends on New Year’s Eve. Two of the fellow dancers, one of whom was a domestic worker, came out positive in preliminary tests.

The helper’s employer and eight of her other close contacts then went on a voyage on January 2nd.

As part of its coronavirus restrictions, Hong Kong has restricted voyages to short voyages in nearby waters, with ships being asked to operate at reduced capacity and to allow only vaccinated passengers who test negative for the virus.

The Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas ship, which returned a day early, had about 2,500 passengers and 1,200 staff on board. The nine close contact passengers were isolated from the rest of the people on board and preliminary tests taken during the voyage yielded negative results, authorities said.

The aerial photo shows the vessel "Spectrum of the sea" moored at a terminal in Hong Kong on January 5, 2022, after being ordered to return to the city for coronavirus testing after nine people were found to be in close contact with a recent Omicron variant outbreak.An aerial photograph shows the vessel, Spectrum of the Seas, moored at a Hong Kong terminal on January 5, 2022, after being ordered to return to the city for coronavirus testing after nine passengers were found to be in close contact with a recent Omicron variant outbreak [Peter Parks/ AFP]

“Spectrum of the Seas is taking appropriate action under guidelines by the Department of Health,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement to the Reuters news agency.

The nine close contacts have been sent to a quarantine center, while the rest of the passengers and staff will have to undergo several tests, the government said.

In addition, mandatory test notices were issued to people who were at about the same time as the close contact of recent patients at dozens of locations across Hong Kong, the government said in a separate statement.

Victoria Park, in downtown Hong Kong, was the newly opened M + modern art museum, ferry piers, restaurants, shops and clinics of the places listed.

Gabriel Leung, University of Hong Kong’s dean of medicine and a government adviser, told public broadcaster RTHK there are probably “five to 10 invisible transmission chains” in the city.

“There’s no time to waste,” Leung said. “We need circuit breakers.”

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