Hong Kong says Omicron has spread locally despite strict rules | Coronavirus pandemic News

The city has largely isolated itself in hopes of containing the highly contagious coronavirus variant.

Hong Kong officials say the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread within the community, despite some of the world’s strictest containment measures, as the city reported its first cases outside of a strict quarantine regime.

Health Minister Sophia Chan told reporters on Friday that one of the four air crew members who tested positive after returning to Hong Kong violated home quarantine rules by going to a restaurant, where he transmitted the virus to his father and a customer sitting at another table.

“Omicron is raging all over the world… and has now found its way into society,” Chan said.

Health official Dr. Chuang Shuk Kwan told reporters that another airline worker, who tested positive for the virus but was previously believed to have stayed home, visited a bar in a nightlife crowded area shortly after the last return flight.

The global financial center has been free of coronavirus for long periods since the pandemic began. The last case of COVID-19 traced outside quarantine facilities and hotels was discovered in October. Previous infections with the Omicron variant were discovered during quarantine of people returning to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has largely isolated itself from the world in hopes of, in turn, opening the border with mainland China to a limited number of business travelers. Across the broader region, mainland China and New Zealand have also doubled down on their existing very stringent border controls, while countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have re-imposed strict travel restrictions in response to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Philip Goh, the regional president of the International Air Transport Association, said the recent tightening of the border across Asia was only a “temporary speed bump” on the road to recovery, and said the region would open up again for travel. More has been learned about omicron, which is thought to be more transmissible than the delta variant, but has also been associated with milder disease.

In Hong Kong, authorities this week tightened quarantine rules for cabin crew, extending the isolation period to one week in a three-day hotel room.

Flight crews were allowed to self-quarantine at home, unlike most people returning to the city who have to self-quarantine in hotels for up to 21 days at their own expense.

Pilots have expressed concerns about their mental health amid long periods of isolation even before measures are tightened.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airlines said on Thursday that new measures have forced it to cancel a large number of passenger and cargo flights due to staff shortages.

The airline said on Thursday it would suspend long-haul flights to Europe via the Pacific Ocean, Riyadh and Dubai until Jan. 6.

Less than 70 percent of its eligible residents have taken two shots of either the Chinese Sinovac vaccine or the German BioNTech vaccine. Only about 5 percent of people received a third booster injection.

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