• SHARE

Hong Kong announced a series of strict pandemic control measures Wednesday, including suspending flights from the United States and seven other countries, as it scrambled to contain an incipient coronavirus outbreak.

The new measures came as authorities held thousands of passengers from a cruise ship under mandatory quarantine to trace a COVID-19 case.

The flight bans will deepen the city’s isolation from the outside world and mark a return to the tough restrictions the city imposed in the early days of the pandemic.

Hong Kong has largely brought the coronavirus under control, but the arrival of the highly transmissible omicron variant threatens to set off the city’s “fifth wave.”

“Given the very dire situation of the pandemic, we have to grasp this critical moment,” said Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, at a news conference.

Lam had said Tuesday that no new social distancing measures were expected. But the spread of omicron, including the infection of a person with no clear connections to the city’s first detected omicron cluster, evidently forced a change.

“We have to contain the pandemic to make sure there will not be a major outbreak in the community again,” she said. “We are racing with omicron.”

The restrictions will make it even harder to enter Hong Kong, which already imposes some of the world’s longest quarantines — up to three weeks. Under the new rules, no flights will be allowed from Australia, the U.K., Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines or the United States for two weeks, starting Saturday. People who have recently been in those countries will also be barred from entering Hong Kong by other routes.

Large public events will be canceled, and several types of public venues — including bars, gyms and karaoke parlors — will be closed. Visitors will be barred from hospitals and nursing homes for two weeks. Dining in restaurants after 6 p.m. will be banned. But the government decided not to stop in-person instruction in schools or to require government officials to work from home.

Hong Kong has reported a growing number of imported cases involving the omicron variant, with 133 as of Tuesday.

“If this continues, there will be tremendous strain on our quarantine and health care facilities,” said Dr. Ronald Lam, Hong Kong’s director of health.

An omicron outbreak in the city has been traced to a Cathay Pacific flight attendant who ignored quarantine requirements after returning to the city from the United States. He dined at the Moon Palace restaurant in the upscale Fashion Walk shopping mall on Dec. 27, infecting his father and at least one other person, who then infected others.

The restrictions came as Hong Kong health authorities on Wednesday ordered a Royal Caribbean cruise ship to return to port early as officials searched for the contacts of a COVID-19 patient.

Nine people who boarded the ship, the Spectrum of the Seas, on Jan. 2 had come into contact with the patient, who did not board the ship, the government said in a statement. The nine were told to quarantine as soon as they were identified as contacts, though they preliminarily tested negative.

The vessel, which was carrying about 2,500 guests and 1,200 staff members, was scheduled to return on Thursday but was back in port as ordered Wednesday morning, a Royal Caribbean representative said.

Those people on the ship were subject to mandatory quarantine, Carrie Lam said at a news conference the same day.

All crew members and guests age 12 and older had to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and provide negative test results before boarding, the cruise line said in a statement. The passengers who sailed on the ship will receive a 25% refund on their cruise fare, it added.

The cruise line also said that it had canceled another ship, scheduled to depart Thursday, and that all guests who had booked to sail on it would receive a full refund.

© 2022 The New York Times Company
Read more at nytimes.com

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)