People walk past a neon light sign at a footbridge in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok area on Aug 20, 2022. (BERTHA  WANG / AFP)

HONG KONG – Hong Kong recorded over 7,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as health authorities detected a “rapid surge” in infections linked to the Omicron subvariant BA.5.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said at a news briefing that there were 7,884 new cases, including 207 imported infections. 

Suspected BA.5 cases accounted for 40.8 percent of the new infections. The last time the daily caseload topped 7,000 was on March 29, when 7,596 cases were reported

Suspected BA.5 cases accounted for 40.8 percent of the new cases. The last time the daily caseload topped 7,000 was on March 29, when 7,596 infections were reported. 

Fourteen COVID patients also passed away, bringing the city’s toll during the fifth wave to 9,421.

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“Now, we have a surge in the number of confirmed cases, especially we have 7,000 cases recorded today, with a rapid surge in the BA.5 substrain. This could be the reason why we see a rapid increase in confirmed cases,” Chuang said.

“So, it is not impossible that we could reach 10,000 cases a day in the near future,” she added.   

Chuang said social distancing measures might be tightened if cases continue to rise, adding that the CHP was concerned about the surge’s impact on the city’s hospital system.

“If the upward trend continues, the government may consider tightening social distancing measures. So, please try to be cooperative and observe social distancing measures,” she said.

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Of the 207 imported cases, 82 were detected at the airport. Thirty-two cases came from India, 31 from the United States, 19 from the Philippines, 18 from the United Kingdom, 15 from Singapore, 14 from Thailand, and 12 from Nepal.

Chuang said 15 cases were found in residential care homes while 72 schools reported 74 students and 27 staff members getting infected.

Larry Lee Lap-yip, chief manager (Integrated Clinical Services) of the Hospital Authority, said in the same briefing that the 14 COVID patients who died included 10 men and four women aged 43 to 97 years old. Five of them were not vaccinated against the coronavirus.

He also said that a cluster of 10 cases was detected at the Eastern Hospital after a 95-year-old patient tested positive on Aug 21. Contact tracing showed that five other patients and four staff members were also infected. 

“Their condition is stable and we will continue contact tracing,” Lee said.

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Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government increased on Wednesday the quota for a program that allows non-Hong Kong residents in the Chinese mainland to visit the SAR without undergoing quarantine. 

In a statement, the government said it raised the daily quota for those entering Hong Kong through the Shenzhen Bay Control Point under the Come2hk Scheme from 1,000 to 1,500 due to a significant increase in the number of applicants. 

Those who are interested in the program can apply through the online booking system, the government said, adding that the daily quota of 1,000 for those entering Hong Kong through the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port remains unchanged.

The HKSAR government said it will closely monitor the operation of the program, closely liaise with the Guangdong provincial government and make timely adjustments where necessary.