‘Strict flight bans needed to stop imported cases’

Leading microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said it appears that Hong Kong has managed to limit the spread of the contagious Delta Covid-19 variant in the community, but stressed officials need to be extremely stringent in enforcing flight bans to prevent the virus from seeping in again.

There had been fears of a widespread community outbreak, after an airport worker was found with the more infectious variant despite not having travelled outside Hong Kong. His colleague at Uptown Plaza in Tai Po was also found to be infected later.

But the airport worker’s case was re-classified on Tuesday, after investigations linked him to three infected arrivals from Indonesia.

Speaking on a radio show, Ho said officials appear to have contained the spread of the Delta variant, as swift contact tracing and large-scale tests hadn’t uncovered more infections.

The University of Hong Kong expert said authorities can observe the situation for one to two more weeks, and the risk of an outbreak should be low if no further cases emerge.

But Ho said Hong Kong needs to do everything it can to protect residents from being infected by imported cases again, if it wants to resume quarantine-free travel with Macau and the mainland soon.

“If we occasionally have some local cases, even if they are linked to imported infections like the case of the airport worker, the mainland would be concerned about Hong Kong’s outbreak situation, fearing that the SAR can become a loophole and the virus can spread to the mainland or Macau when the borders are reopened,” he said.

The expert added that the city needs to adopt a zero-tolerance approach and be very strict in enforcing suspensions of flights from high-risk areas.

A ban on all incoming UK flights will come into force from July 1, with the government citing a rebound in coronavirus cases and the spread of mutated variants there.

But speaking on the same programme, the executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotels Owners, Michael Li, said quarantine hotels are suffering as a result of such bans.

He said the hotels have to offer full refunds to customers who can no longer come to the SAR, amounting to tens of millions of dollars in losses.

Li urged officials to communicate with the sector before changing policies, saying the government should also consider increasing subsidies for hotels.