HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s health officials said on Friday (Dec 31) the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has made its way past some of the world’s toughest COVID 19 restrictions, with the city reporting its first cases outside its strict quarantine system.
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.
Chan said Chief Executive Carrie Lam 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 air crew,” said Andy Wong, general manager of Corporate Affairs.