Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (centre) holds a press conference on measures to fight the pandemic with Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee (second left), Director of Health Ronald Lam Man-kin (second right), Controller of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health Edwin Tsui Lok-kin (first right), and Chief Executive of the Hospital Authority Tony Ko Pat-sing (first left) at the Central Government Offices, Tamar on Jan 5, 2022. (PHOTO/HKSAR GOVERNMENT)
HONG KONG – Hong Kong will ban passenger flights from eight countries for two weeks and reinstate stringent social distancing measures to stamp out a nascent Omicron outbreak, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Wednesday.
Lam said incoming flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Britain and the United States, including interchanges, will be banned from Jan 8 to Jan 21.
Lam said the government would ban indoor dining after 6:00 pm from Friday, and close swimming pools, sports centres, bars and clubs, museums, fitness centers, beauty salons, theme parks and other venues for at least two weeks
The government will also ban indoor dining after 6:00 pm from Friday, and close swimming pools, sports centres, bars and clubs, museums, fitness centers, beauty salons, bath houses, amusement game centers, theme parks, places of public entertainment and other venues for at least two weeks.
"We're yet to see a fifth wave yet, but we're on the verge," Lam said. “This is a very hard decision. However, we have to be decisive, tough, and quick to prevent the spread of Omicron in Hong Kong.”
The government has also cancelled all large-scale events including the much-anticipated Hong Kong Cyclothon scheduled on Jan 16. Local group tours and “cruise to nowhere” trips will be suspended while visitors will also be barred from hospitals and long-term care homes.
The city recorded 38 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, incuding 34 imported cases, three infections epidemiologically linked with an imported case and one local case.
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Thirty-five of the cases involved mutant strains while mutation test results of two cases are pending. The viral load of the remaining case is insufficient for mutation tests. The patients comprise 13 males and 25 females, aged 13 to 72.
A total of 219 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the past 14 days.
Tony Ko Pat-sing, Chief Executive of Hospital Authority, said that some 40 patients have been admitted to temporary field hospital at Asia World Expo since its reopening on Sunday.
Since the occupancy rate of infectious disease ward should be generally kept at 70 percent, a surge in COVID-19 cases could easily overwhelm the medical system, Ko said.
On Dec 31, a streak of three months without community cases ended with the first local transmission of the new 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.
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"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."
Also on Wednesday, the government said in a statement that Cape Verde, Niger and South Sudan will be considered as high-risk places for COVID-19 infection starting Jan 8 after they reported Omicron cases.
Non-Hong Kong residents who have stayed in these countries within 21 days will not be allowed to enter the city while residents can only board a flight home if they are fully vaccinated and hold a recognized vaccination record.
Since the launch of Hong Kong's mass inoculation program in February 2021, more than 4.94 million people, or 73.4 percent of the eligible population, have taken at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, while about 4.68 million, or 69.5 percent of the eligible population, have taken two doses.
Meanwhile, 455,642 people in Hong Kong had taken a booster shot as of Wednesday.
With inputs from Agencies