Business closures, flights ban over Covid threat

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government will re-impose strict anti-epidemic measures in Hong Kong to try to ward off a large-scale Covid-19 outbreak involving the Omicron variant, such as re-introducing a ban on dine-in services at restaurants from 6pm, ordering the closure of venues such as bars and karaoke parlours and suspending flights from eight countries including the UK and the US.

Other measures include cancelling all large-scale events and suspending all “cruise-to-nowhere” voyages.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Lam said there have been drastic changes to the local pandemic situation with new cases springing up, adding that authorities have so far been unable to determine how many transmission chains there are in the community.

“We are facing a very dire situation of a major community outbreak any time, that’s why we have to take very decisive measures,” she said.

“We are in a race against time to stop the Omicron variant from spreading in the community.”

She said there will be a ban on dine-in services from 6pm to 5am from Friday, with the number of people capped at two to six people per table depending on the type of the restaurant.

Fifteen types of venues such as bars, gyms, entertainment venues, mahjong parlours and swimming pools will be shut.

There will be a ban on major events and non-essential gatherings for 14 days, including the Hong Kong Cyclothon.

From Saturday, January 8, passenger flights from eight countries will be banned from Hong Kong for 14 days. They are Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The chief executive said the rapid surge in imported Covid cases has placed tremendous pressure on the local medical system, adding there’s a need to stop people from coming from high-risk areas.

However, Lam said she doesn’t see a need yet to suspend face-to-face classes at schools, at least for now.

“This is one of the most difficult decisions… not to allow young students to come to school will significantly affect their health, whether it is their mental health or their physical health… We feel that for the benefit and the interest of the children, and of course also their parents, because if the kids are not going to school and their parents couldn’t look after them, there would be major problems as well, so for the time being, we are not suspending classes,” she said.

“But we will be sending a very strong advice to the schools that they would have to be doubly cautious in enforcing all the precautionary measures in looking after the children.”

On work arrangements, the chief executive said it is “not realistic” to order the bulk of civil servants to work from home.

“Of course I would encourage private companies to allow their employees, wherever possible, to work from home because the ultimate objective is to reduce people flow, to reduce congestion on public transport… but for civil servants to work from home, our experience is, one, we have a lot of civil servants who have duties to do. And in dealing with this epidemic, there are even more duties for the civil servants to do,” she said.

Also, visits to public hospitals and elderly homes will be suspended.

All these measures will be reviewed a week after they’re put in place.
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Last updated: 2022-01-05 HKT 16:50