Hong Kong bans all flights from US and UK
Hong Kong has banned all flights from the United States and seven other countries for at least two weeks amid fears they could spark a fifth wave of COVID-19 in the region.
The Chinese-ruled city announced a ban on all incoming flights from eight countries, including Britain, the U.S. and Australia, as its politicians enacted the tightest restrictions since COVID-19 was detected two years ago.
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Canada, France, India, Pakistan and the Philippines are also on the list of countries that will be banned from Jan. 8 to at least Jan. 21, Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, said on Wednesday. While the popular destination has had strict entry requirements in place during the pandemic including mandatory quarantine, the flight ban means passengers cannot even transit Hong Kong on carriers such as Cathay Pacific.
It comes as authorities launched a city-wide hunt for close contacts of 2,500 passengers aboard a Royal Caribbean ship that had been ordered to return to port after being declared a "cruise to nowhere" following a COVID-19 outbreak.
“We have to contain the pandemic to ensure that there will not be a major outbreak in the community again,” Lam said at a news conference, adding that the city is “on the verge” of another surge.
The announcement is the latest measure in Hong Kong's “zero-covid” policy launched as the government attempts to turn back the oncoming tide of the omicron variant and eradicate it at all costs.
A 6 p.m. indoor hospitality curfew is now in force, while beauty parlors, swimming pools, gyms, nightclubs and sports centers have been closed for two weeks. Hong Kong has mandatory hospitalization for positive coronavirus cases, even those who are asymptomatic.
Nevertheless, a number of COVID-19 clusters have emerged across Hong Kong in recent days, linked to several Cathay Pacific crew members who broke quarantine protocols to dine out in bars and restaurants during the festive period, before testing positive on their return to work.
It led to two members of its aircrew being sacked on New Year's Day.
"The actions of these individuals are extremely disappointing, as they undermine the otherwise exemplary dedication and compliance shown by our over 10,000 aircrew," Cathay said, adding it would work closely with health authorities to reinforce the protection of public health.
"We're yet to see a fifth wave, but we're on the verge," Lam warned.