Hong Kong on verge of new Covid wave: officials

Health authorities have warned that Hong Kong is on the verge of a fifth wave of Covid-19 outbreaks, after confirming the first community transmission of the virus in the territory for months.

Officials were scrambling on Friday to track down all the people who had been to the same places as patients who are thought to have contracted the Omicron strain of the bug – including restaurants, a cinema, a bar, shops and buses.

The Moon Palace restaurant at the Festival Walk mall in Kowloon Tong is at the centre of the community outbreak. A Cathay Pacific aircrew worker visited the restaurant on Monday with his father after returning from the United States. The Cathay employee later tested positive for the Omicron strain.

His father was then found to be infected as well, as was another diner – a construction worker who had been sitting around 10 metres away.

The controller of the Centre for Health Protection, Edwin Tsui, said this indicates the virus was transmitted through the air, meaning the estimated 200 or so diners at the restaurant need to be put into quarantine.

But he said so far, they had only tracked down around 80 of them.

“We consider that this was a short-range airborne transmission, so far as we collected information from our investigation details. We consider that during the lunch period about 200 patrons at this time are considered as close contacts to the infected case… We have to quarantine the close contacts for the duration of 21 days after the last contact,” he said.

Officials said inspectors found uneven air flow inside the restaurant and some areas weren’t adequately ventilated, potentially increasing the risk of further infections.

The aircrew worker and his father also went to the Apple store in Festival Walk before their lunch.

After going to the restaurant, the construction worker visited the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai as well as the Gyu-Kaku Japanese Yakiniku restaurant in Tuen Mun’s V City shopping centre.

He went to watch Spider-man at the Broadway cinema in Kwai Fong on Tuesday and also did scaffolding work in Ma On Shan and Tai Po before testing positive for the virus.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan described the infections as deeply worrying, while Director of Health Ronald Lam said Hong Kong was on the tipping point of a fifth wave of infections, urging people to be vigilant.

The Hospital Authority said it was preparing for possible outbreaks and it would on Sunday be reopening a 500-bed temporary hospital at AsiaWorld-Expo, where Covid patients deemed to be stable could be treated.

Officials said they are not cancelling large-scale public activities for the time being, but urged people to avoid crowded places and to keep their masks on in public.

In addition to the two local cases, 17 imported Covid cases were confirmed on Friday, including a Cathay Pacific pilot who returned from the United States on Christmas Day.

Officials said the 47-year-old visited the Pici restaurant in Soho; The Iron Fairies & Co bar in Central, and the Soho House club in Sheung Wan on Monday.