The city has largely isolated itself in the hopes of containing the highly transmissible coronavirus variant.
Hong Kong officials say the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread within the community, despite some of the world’s strictest restraint measures, with the city reporting its first cases outside its strict quarantine system.
Health Secretary Sophia Chan told reporters on Friday that one in four air crew members who tested positive after returning to Hong Kong violated home quarantine rules by going to a restaurant, where he transmitted the virus to his father and a customer. who was sitting at another table.
“Omicron is raging around the world … and it has now found its way into the community,” Chan said.
Health official Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan told reporters another airline worker, who tested positive but had previously presumably stayed at home, visited a bar in a crowded nightlife district shortly after their latest flight back .
The global financial hub has been coronavirus-free for long periods since the pandemic began. The last COVID-19 case detected outside its quarantine facilities and hotels was discovered in October. Previous infections with the Omicron variant have been discovered during quarantines of people returning to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has largely isolated itself from the world in hopes of opening up the border with mainland China to a limited number of business travelers. Across the wider region, mainland China and New Zealand have also doubled on existing ultra-strict border controls, while countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have reintroduced difficult travel borders in response to the highly contagious Omicron -variant.
In a interview with Al Jazeera, Philip Goh, the regional head of the International Air Transport Association, said the recent tightening of borders across Asia was only a “temporary speed bump” on the road to recovery and said the region would reopen to travel as more was learned about Omicron, which is believed to be more transmissible than the Delta variant, but it has also been associated with milder disease.
In Hong Kong, authorities this week tightened quarantine rules for air crews, extending the isolation period to one week in a three-day hotel room.
Flight attendants are allowed to be quarantined at home, unlike most people who return to the city and who have to be quarantined in hotels for up to 21 days at their own expense.
Pilots expressed concern about their mental health amid long periods of isolation even before tightening measures.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways said on Thursday that the new measures had forced it to cancel a significant number of passenger and cargo flights due to staff shortages.
The airline said on Thursday it would suspend long-haul flights to Europe, across the Pacific and to Riyadh and Dubai until January 6.
Less than 70 percent of its qualifying population took two shots of China’s Sinovac or Germany’s BioNTech vaccine. Only about 5 percent of people got a third brace shot.