Travellers from more than 140 “high-risk” countries or regions will be temporarily banned from transiting through Hong Kong’s airport, as cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant continue to spread internationally and within the city.

According to a notice released by the city’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific on Thursday, the Hong Kong Airport Authority announced the restrictions “in response to the rising number of Omicron cases around the world.”

Hong Kong airport flights Covid-19 Cathay
Hong Kong International Airport. File Photo: GovHK.

The new limitations will take effect at midnight on Sunday and last until February 15.

The airline said transfer and transit services at Hong Kong International Airport will still be provided to passengers from “non high risk places.” As of Friday, health authorities have listed 143 regions where the more transmissible Omicron variant has been detected as “high risk.”

Ming Pao quoted government sources as saying that the latest measure is unrelated to ongoing government investigations into whether Cathay Pacific complied with official coronavirus regulations.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam entering the Legislative Council Chamber on January 12, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Cathay Pacific air crew members have been identified as the source of Omicron outbreaks in Hong Kong after flouting self-isolation rules upon their return to the city.

Authorities have tightened the quarantine rules for cargo crew, who are now required to undergo seven days of hotel confinement instead of the previous three-day quarantine at home.

The airline said it has operated at about 20 per cent cargo capacity since the quarantine restrictions were tightened compared to pre-pandemic times, while Lam warned the public to expect price surges or shortages for air-imported products.

Tuen Mun outbreaks

Meanwhile, Covid-19 continued to spread in the community with health officials concerned about invisible transmission in the Tuen Mun district.

Two nurses who worked at JP Partners Medical Centre clinics in Tuen Mun but did not share any shifts both tested preliminary positive on Thursday. The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said patients linked to a Tuen Mun pharmacy involved in an Omicron outbreak had sought treatment at the Gold Coast branch of JP Partners Medical Centre.

The owner of the pharmacy and three of his family members were earlier revealed to have been infected by a member of Cathay’s aircrew who visited the drug store on December 27. The same Cathay employee was the source of infection in the Moon Palace restaurant cluster.

tuen mun quarantine photo
Government enforces lockdown and compulsory testing in Tuen Mun on January 13. Photo: GovHK.

One of the nurses who tested preliminary positive was working when members of the pharmacy owner’s family visited the medical centres.  

Chuang Shuk-kwan, director of the CHP, said during Thursday’s Covid-19 press conference that there was already an outbreak at the clinic and she was concerned about undetected transmission in Tuen Mun.

She said she believed the second nurse “has a higher chance to be infected by another nurse, but we need to wait for whole‑genome analysis.”

The authorities placed the residences of both nurses under lockdown for compulsory testing on Thursday night.

Testing at Hoi Tak Gardens, which was completed on Friday afternoon, identified one uncertain case, who was sent to hospital. Their close contacts were sent into quarantine.

Chuang Shuk-kwan
Chuang Shuk-kwan at the Covid-19 briefing on January 13. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

The authorities lifted the lockdown on JC Place earlier after not finding any cases.

On Thursday, there were 14 new confirmed infections – of which five were locally transmitted – and fewer than 10 preliminary positive cases.

As of Thursday, Hong Kong had 13,016 Covid-19 cases in total while the death toll stood at 213.

Faced with local Omicron infections, Hong Kong tightened social distancing measures last Friday, including banning dine-in services in restaurants after 6 p.m. and closing various premises, including sports centres, bars and pubs and karaoke parlours. All primary schools and kindergartens were also required to suspend in-person classes on or before Friday.

The government said it would review the measures and announce its next move on Friday afternoon.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.