Press Releases in Hong Kong

HK sees first local Omicron cases, further tightens rules for aircrew

A woman wearing a mask walks dogs on a street in Hong Kong on April 8, 2021. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

HONG KONG – Hong Kong authorities have discovered cases of infection of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the community, Secretary for Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said on Friday, marking the first local cases in about three months.

Chan told reporters one of four aircrew members testing positive after their return to Hong Kong had breached home quarantine rules by going to a restaurant, where he passed the virus to his father and a client sitting at another table.

"Omicron is raging around the world … and it has now found its way into the community," Chan said.

READ MORE: HK sees 11 Omicron cases, suspends flights of 3 airlines

She added that preparations on the border reopening with the Chinese mainland continued, but "the priority was handling the pandemic."

Omicron is raging around the world … and it has now found its way into the community.

Sophia Chan, Secretary of Health, Hong Kong

Hong Kong has not recorded any coronavirus cases spread by community transmission since Oct 9.

The 44-year-old Cathay aircrew member, who returned to Hong Kong from the US on Christmas day, had lunch with his father at Moon Palace in Festival Walk, Kowloon Tong on Monday. The father, 76, subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. 

Another patron — a 34-year-old construction worker — who had a meal at the restaurant around the same time, also tested positive on Thursday. He was sitting at a table around 10 meters away from the aircrew, Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, said at a briefing.

Government officials said in the briefing that 22 Moon Palace employees had been sent to the quarantine center. Authorities are tracing some 200 customers who visited the restaurant on Monday.

Government officials said 22 Moon Palace employees had been sent to the quarantine center. Authorities are tracing some 200 customers who visited the restaurant on Monday

Until Tuesday, returning aircrew were exempted from quarantine but were required to undergo three-day home isolation. The health authorities have since tightened the quarantine requirement, announcing on Tuesday that returning aircrew will need to spend three days in hotel quarantine before a period of home isolation. The hotel quarantine period will be further lengthened to seven days from Saturday.

Chuang said a different airline worker, who tested positive but was previously thought to have stayed at home, had visited a bar in a crowded nightlife district shortly after their latest flight back.

ALSO READ: Kowloon block cordoned off over suspected Omicron case

Chan said Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor met with Cathay Pacific Airways officials earlier on Friday to express her dissatisfaction with the breaching of the rules.

Cathay said in a statement five of its aircrew had tested positive in recent days and its "investigation into the cases has indicated a serious breach of protocols by some of those individuals," adding it will initiate disciplinary procedures.

"The actions of these individuals are extremely disappointing, as they undermine the otherwise exemplary dedication and compliance shown by our over 10,000 aircrew," said Andy Wong, general manager of Corporate Affairs.

Health chief Sophia Chan also said the government will expand the scope of the vaccine bubble before the Chinese New Year as people will attend gatherings during the festival

The airline apologized to those affected and said it would continue to work closely with the government.

During the briefing, Chan also said the government will expand the scope of the vaccine bubble before the Chinese New Year as people will attend gatherings during the festival.

Under the new vaccine bubble arrangement, more venues will require people to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination before entering.

Including the two local cases, Hong Kong reported 19 new COVID-19 infections on Friday — all were suspected cases of Omicron — bringing the infection tally to 12,649. 

The 17 imported cases involved four men and four women from the US, including a Cathay aircrew member; three men from Canada; one man from the UK; and five foreign domestic helpers from the Philippines.

Health authorities confirmed another six Omicron cases on Friday, taking the total number of such infections to 87.

The financial hub also reported 16 preliminary positive COVID-19 cases, including a 35-year-old woman who works in the restricted area of Hong Kong airport, said Chuang.

As of Thursday, 69 percent of Hong Kong's eligible population have taken two shots of either the mainland-made Sinovac or Germany's BioNTech vaccines.  About 5 percent of people have received a third booster shot.

With inputs from Reuters