Hong Kong announced on Wednesday a stringent set of pandemic control measures, including suspending flights to the United States and seven other nations, as it attempts to manage an Omicron epidemic.
The new measures will deepen the city’s isolation from the outside world and mark a return to the tough restrictions from the early days of the pandemic. Hong Kong has largely brought the coronavirus under control, but the arrival of Omicron threatens to set off the city’s fifth wave of the pandemic.
“Given the very dire situation of the pandemic, we have to grasp this critical moment,” Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said at a news conference announcing the new rules.
Mrs. Lam had stated that no new social disincentives were expected a day earlier. But the spread of Omicron, including the infection of a person with no clear connections to the city’s first Omicron cluster, evidently forced a change.
“We have to contain the pandemic to make sure there will not be a major outbreak in the community again,” she said. “We are racing with Omicron, a highly transmissible variant.”
The restrictions will make it even harder to enter Hong Kong, which already has one of the world’s longest quarantines — up to three weeks. The new rules will temporarily ban flights from Australia, Canada, France and the USA for two weeks beginning Saturday. Other routes will be blocked for those who have been to these countries in the past.
Large public events will be canceled, and several public venues — including bars, gyms and karaoke parlors — will be closed. Two weeks will also be barred from visiting hospitals and nursing homes. After 6 p.m., restaurants will be closed. However, the government has decided to not stop in-person teaching and to require government officials to work remotely.
Hong Kong has seen an increase of Omicron-related imported cases, with 133 reported as of Tuesday.
“If this continues, there will be tremendous strain on our quarantine and health care facilities,” said Dr. Ronald Lam, Hong Kong’s director of health.
Omicron disease in the city was caused by a Cathay Pacific flight attendant who failed to comply with quarantine requirements after returning from America. On Dec. 27, he ate at the Moon Palace restaurant at Fashion Walk, infecting his father as well as at least one other person.
Mrs. Lam said the measures were most likely “the most decisive, rapid, targeted and comprehensive for the past two years so that we can cut the transmission chains as soon as possible.”
The restrictions came after Hong Kong’s health authorities ordered a Royal Caribbean cruise liner to return to port on Wednesday as officials searched for contact information of a Covid-19 patient.
The Spectrum of the Seas had nine passengers who boarded the ship Jan. 2, but they had come in contact with the patient. The government released a statement saying that the patient did not board the ship. They were instructed to quarantine once they were identified as contacts. However, they were preliminarily negative.
John YoonContributed reporting
Source: NY Times