Hong Kong says omicron variant has spread despite COVID restrictions

The findings raise risks that the global financial hub might
keep its borders shut well into 2022. It has largely isolated itself from the
world hoping in turn to open the border with mainland China for a limited
number of business travellers.

Hong Kong’s last COVID-19 case tracked outside its
quarantine facilities and hotels was discovered in October. Previous infections
with the omicron variant were discovered during quarantines of people returning
to Hong Kong.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan told reporters one of four air
crew members who tested 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.

She added that China border reopening preparations
continued, but “the priority was handling the pandemic.”

Health official Chuang Shuk-kwan told reporters 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.

The government this week tightened quarantine rules for air
crew, who had been allowed to quarantine at home, unlike most people returning
to the city who have to quarantine in hotels for up to 21 days at their own

Pilots had expressed worries about their mental health amid
prolonged periods of isolation even before the tightening.

Cathay Pacific Airways said on Thursday the latest
tightening had forced it to cancel a significant number of passenger and cargo
flights to and from Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong which has been coronavirus-free for extended
periods since the pandemic began.

But less than 70% of its eligible population, far lower than
in other developed cities, have taken two shots of either China’s Sinovac or
Germany’s BioNTech vaccines.

Only about 5% of people have received a third booster shot.

Even three doses of Sinovac’s vaccine do not produce
adequate levels of antibodies to fight the omicron variant, researchers from
Hong Kong found.

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