Hong Kong restricts inbound flights over growing COVID concerns

Hong Kong has imposed a two-week ban on incoming flights from eight countries, including the United States and the UK, as authorities feared a fifth wave of COVID infections.

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

Lam said the government would ban indoor dining after 6.00 pm from Friday, and close swimming pools, sports centres, bars and clubs, museums, and other venues for at least two weeks. Future cruise journeys would be cancelled.

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

Hong Kong recorded 38 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday 5 January, but only one was a local community transmission, while the rest were people who had returned to the city and tested positive during quarantine.

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 31 December, 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.

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

Victoria Park, in downtown Hong Kong, the newly opened M+ modern art museum, ferry piers, restaurants, stores, clinics were among the places listed.

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

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

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