Covid-19 patients in Hong Kong who are infected with certain Omicron subvariants and their close contacts are to be sent to government facilities instead of being allowed to quarantine at home, local health authorities have said.

Penny’s Bay Covid-19 quarantine centre on Lantau. File photo: GovHK.

During a daily Covid-19 press briefing on Wednesday, the Controller of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) Edwin Tsui said that Hong Kong had scrapped the home isolation arrangement for some Covid-19 patients in light of the emergence of new subvariants, including BA.2.12.1.

“As of today, there are certain [sub-lineages] that we want to… investigate more, like the BA.2.12.1, BA.4, BA.5, which [have] emerged overseas widely,” Tsui said.

Currently, the dominant strain in Hong Kong is Omicron BA.2.2, which has been circulating since January.

Tsui said patients infected with subvariants of concern would be taken to controlled facilities such as a community isolation centre, or a hospital if they have symptoms. Their close contacts, on the other hand, would be placed in government quarantine centres “for a more [close] observation.”

“The latest information show that these Omicron sub-lineage may have higher transmissibility… we have to take a more stringent approach to deal with this kind of new Omicron sub-lineage,” the CHP controller said.

Tsui was responding to questions raised by a Bloomberg reporter on Wednesday, who asked about a cluster at the DSC International School. According to Bloomberg, at least two families linked to the cluster said they had requested to isolate at home as their living conditions met official requirements. But they were told by the local health authorities that they had to go to a quarantine facility due to their connection to the cluster involving the subvariant.

In February, Hong Kong launched the Stay Home Safe scheme to allow close contacts of Covid-19 patients to undergo home quarantine for 14 days subject to the assessment of the authorities.

The move was a bid to “protect the healthcare system from collapse” as public hospitals were stretched to their limit treating tens of thousands of infections during the deadliest wave of Covid since the pandemic hit Hong Kong in early 2020.

Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong during the fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The CHP controller said the authorities would review whether a case was suitable for isolating at home or in a “controlled environment.” Citing concerns over Omicron subvariants such as BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 which have spread widely overseas, Tsui said it was important for the authorities to closely monitor strains circulating in the city.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong recorded 505 new infections, among which 34 were imported. The city also added one Covid-related death.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.