Hong Kong has extended its ban on all commercial flights from the UK and South Africa until further notice to guard against new and more infectious Covid-19 strains detected in both countries, describing the situation in Britain as “grim”.
“The epidemic situation worldwide remains severe, with cases of the more transmissible new virus variant detected in an increasing number of places,” said a government statement late Thursday.
“The situation in the UK, where the new virus variant was first discovered, has further deteriorated in the past two weeks. England is under lockdown again until mid-February, and the outlook in the short term is grim,”
The UK reported over 60,000 new infections for two consecutive days this week, as authorities struggled to contain the highly-infectious mutation. The country has been under a national lockdown since Monday, with parliament on Thursday passing legislation allowing for the new measures to be extended for at least three months.
South Africa reported its highest ever daily figure of 20,999 cases on Thursday.
“After reviewing the latest epidemic developments globally and in the relevant places, the Government finds it necessary to maintain the measure to restrict persons who have stayed in the UK and South Africa from boarding for Hong Kong,” the statement read.
The 21-day compulsory quarantine also remains for individuals arriving in Hong Kong from anywhere outside of China.
Both measures will be reviewed every two weeks.
The government defended the extension of the measures on Thursday, saying that it was necessary to protect the city from an outbreak of the more infectious mutations. Hongkongers are among those barred from returning.
“The Government recognises that the above requirement is very stringent and may inevitably affect the return journey of a number of Hong Kong residents in the UK or South Africa,” a spokesperson said.
“We simply cannot afford to relax the relevant restrictions at this juncture, lest the anti-epidemic efforts of the entire community go down the drain.”
Hong Kong remains one of only few jurisdictions to ban its own citizens from returning.
‘Sporadic’ community transmissions
Hong Kong has reported 15 imported cases of the UK mutation, 13 of which were imported by individuals who had travelled from Britain. The city has detected two cases of the South African mutation.
The city reported 45 new cases on Friday, all but three from local sources. Of the local cases, 22 were from untraceable sources. The Centre for Health Protection’s Head of Communicable Diseases Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said the number of untraceable cases signals the presence of undetected silent transmission chains within the community.
“Most of [the untraceable cases] do not have a definite mass gathering — mainly, they are sporadic. This also signifies there may be other silent transmissions…other cases we do not know yet in the community,” she said.