‘Govt unlikely to relax distancing rules on Feb 4’

Infectious disease expert David Hui said on Saturday he believes there is very little chance that the government will be able to relax the current social distancing measures when they expire on February 4.

The government has re-introduced a ban on dining in restaurants after 6pm and ordered the closure of various venues, including bars, gyms and other entertainment venues from January 7.

Speaking to reporters after a radio programme, Hui, who’s advising the government on the pandemic, says the city is now fighting both the Omicron and the Delta outbreaks.

“We have now two war zones, one due to Omicron, one due to Delta. And in the Kwai Tsing area, there are actually outbreaks in public housing. We still have to find out if there is any spread further into the community. So I don’t think we have enough time [for] relaxing the social distancing measures on the fourth day of the Lunar New Year,” he said.

Hui urged people to avoid visiting relatives or going to large gathering during Chinese New Year, adding that the government should consider allowing non-essential civil servants to work from home and encourage private businesses to follow suit.

He also defended the government’s decision to cull more than 2,000 hamsters and other small mammals earlier this week, after a pet shop worker in Causeway Bay was suspected of having been infected by hamsters carrying the Delta variant.

He said Hong Kong simply did not have the facilities to isolate the hamsters for testing.

“We have good evidence there is hamster-to-human transmission. Now in Hong Kong we don’t have places to house more than 2,000 hamsters in a neutral or safe area so that you can perform multiple testing. We don’t have such a facility. So I don’t think there is any choice.”

He said there was “a lot of contamination by the hamsters in multiple shops”.

“If the government had not gone ahead with this decision, I think that would have spread the infection much deeper into the community,” he said.

Hui also said he believes authorities would have to require pet importers to prove that animals they are sending have tested negative for Covid.

Meanwhile, the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, Leung Siu-fai, stressed that the decision to cull what could have been a highly-infectious batch of hamsters was normal practice, and delaying it would have had a greater impact on the city.