People wearing face masks line up to scan the government's contact tracing QR code for the LeaveHomeSafe COVID-19 mobile app before entering a market in Hong Kong on Nov 2, 2021. (KIN CHEUNG / AP)

HONG KONG – Hong Kong reported 363 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, bringing the infection tally during the fifth wave to 1,191,579, as the second phase of the vaccine pass arrangement began. 

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said in a news briefing that the new infections comprised 25 imported cases and 338 local infections.

Authorities have detected five cases each of the highly transmissible BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 subvariants among inbound travelers who have arrived in Hong Kong earlier

She said 190 of the cases were confirmed through nucleic acid tests and 173 by rapid antigen tests. Two more students from two schools tested positive, she added.

Of the 25 imported cases, 14 were detected at the airport upon arrival on Friday, including four from Bangkok, three from Sydney, two from Singapore and one each from Manila and Jakarta, according to Chuang. The remaining 11 imported cases have arrived in the city earlier.

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Chuang also said that authorities have detected five cases each of the BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 subvariants among inbound travelers who have arrived in Hong Kong earlier. 

The two new subvariants of the highly contagious BA.2 Omicron variant, much like its ancestors, appeared to be highly transmissible, Chuang noted. 

"However, there is currently no evidence that they cause more severe disease or deaths," she said.

Lau Ka-hin, chief manager (quality and standards) of the Hospital Authority, said 10 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 passed away in the last 24 hours, including five men and five woman aged 58 to 94. That brought the number of deaths involving patients tested positive for COVID-19 during the fifth wave of the pandemic to 9,095.

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Lau said three of them came from residential care homes and six did not have any vaccination records.

He added that the 58-year-old patient who died was a woman with breast cancer that has metastasized.

2nd phase of vaccine pass begins

Saturday also marked the beginning of the second phase of the vaccine pass arrangement which requires residents to have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before entering specific premises.

The premises covered by the vaccine pass include supermarkets, restaurants, cinemas, fitness centers, beauty parlors etc.

The arrangement applies to adults aged 18 or above, teenagers aged between 12 and 17 who have received their first dose of vaccine for six months or more, and recovered COVID-19 patients aged 12 or above who have received their first dose for six months or more.