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Hong Kong bans flights from PH, other countries

/ 05:46 AM January 06, 2022
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FILE PHOTO: A general view of skyline buildings, in Hong Kong, China. REUTERS

HONG KONG — Hong Kong announced a two-week ban on incoming flights from eight countries and tightened restrictions on Wednesday as authorities feared a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections.

The restrictions were announced as health authorities scoured the city for the contacts of a COVID-19 patient, some of whom had been aboard a Royal Caribbean ship that was ordered to cut short its “cruise to nowhere” and return to port.

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Incoming flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain, and the United States, including interchanges, would be banned from Jan. 8 to Jan 21, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told reporters.

Lam said the government would ban indoor dining after 6 p.m. from Friday, and close swimming pools, sports centers, bars and clubs, museums, and other venues for at least two weeks. Future cruise journeys would be canceled.

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“We’re yet to see a fifth wave … but we’re on the verge,” Lam said.

The global finance hub has stuck to a zero-tolerance strategy by largely isolating itself from the world and enforcing a draconian and costly quarantine regime.

On Dec. 31, a streak of three months without community cases ended with the first local transmission of the Omicron variant.

Since then, authorities have scrambled to track down and test hundreds of people who had been in contact with a handful of Omicron patients. One patient, however, had no known links, raising fears of a large outbreak.

“We are worried there may be silent transmission chains in the community,” Lam said. “Some confirmed cases had a lot of activities before being aware they got infected.”

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

In response to the outbreak fears, Standard Chartered Plc has started operating in split teams in Hong Kong, a bank spokesperson said.

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The latest contact-tracing campaign was sparked by a patient who danced with some 20 friends in a central park on New Year’s Eve. Two of the fellow dancers, one of whom was a domestic helper, came up positive in preliminary tests.

The helper’s employer and eight of her close contacts then went on a cruise on Jan. 2.

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

The “Spectrum of the Seas” ship 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 journey returned negative results, authorities said.

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