HONG KONG – Hong Kongers are in for a muted Chinese New Year after the government announced the extension of restrictions as the city grapples with an uptick in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, many linked to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Venues like gyms, cinemas and bars will remain closed and the dine-in ban after 6pm will continue for another 14 days until Feb 3 which is the third day of the new year.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday evening (Jan 14) also said that flight suspensions will continue until Feb 14, while large-scale events like the annual flower fairs will be cancelled.
“I know this will let a lot of people down,” she told a briefing. “Covid is not yet under control.”
She also announced another relief package for businesses affected, saying the government would disburse HK$3.57 billion (S$618 million) under the anti-epidemic fund and provide the relief as soon as the early part of Chinese New Year.
If the situation improves, the government may ease rules from Feb 4 for venues such as beauty parlours, Mrs Lam said, adding that only those vaccinated would be allowed into them.
“I hope to see the vaccination rate go up to over 80 or close to 90 per cent… then we may be able to allow these premises to start operating again under a vaccine bubble,” she said.
Separately, health authorities on Friday disclosed that the city recorded nine additional infections, six of whom were imported cases.
“At present, although the number of Omicron cases has been steady, or as you can see today (it’s) a little bit reduced, but we don’t know whether there is still a silent transmission in some territories in Hong Kong. So, we can’t say at present the transmission is already contained, but we have to keep monitoring the situation for a certain period of time,” said Dr Edwin Tsui, controller of the Centre for Health Protection.
The current outbreak, which has been traced to two Cathay Pacific crew members, ended the city’s three-month streak of no local transmissions.
The airline crew who breached home isolation rules have been sacked and the government has launched investigations into the airline.
Meanwhile, health officials confirmed that more people had attended a birthday party for a Hong Kong deputy to the 13th National People’s Congress, or Chinese Parliament, which turned into another Covid-19 cluster. The number of guests rose from 100 to 225.
Two separate probes have been launched into the party, one to see if health regulations were breached and the other into the behaviour of government officials who were at the occasion.