Hong Kong will suspend in-person classes for kindergartens and primary schools from Friday until after Chinese New Year, as the city reimposes pandemic checks to stem an outbreak of the contagious omicron variant. Kindergartens and primary schools will close once more, Chief Executive Carrie Lam reported Tuesday, while air passengers from “high-risk” nations are set to be restricted from transiting through Hong Kong International Airport, as indicated by individuals familiar with the matter. Those blows to ordinariness came closely following the city shutting bars, beaches, beauty parlors and eating in at restaurants following 6 p.m last week.
That strict approach has seen the city put some 4,000 people in government quarantine and isolate asymptomatic cases, as Hong Kong continues its dogged pursuit of Covid Zero while the rest of the world bar China transitions to some form of living with the virus.
Residents are being plunged into a semi-lockdown over a relatively small number of cases of the omicron variant, with authorities warning hidden clusters could be possible. The city has tested around 920,000 people over the past two weeks and found just 42 positive cases, Lam said.
“Imagine if we did not have such a contact tracing and quarantine arrangement,” Lam said Tuesday, referring to some quarantined residents who tested positive while in isolation, “And instead we left them in the community. Imagine the transmission would be way greater.”
Covid-19 infections among young children prompted the move, Lam said Tuesday, clarifying that in-person learning at kindergartens and primary schools will close Friday until after Chinese New Year. Secondary schools will continue in-person classes, she said.
The city will also expand the availability of China’s Sinovac Biotech Co. Ltd. vaccine to children between the ages of 5 and 12, she added.
“It’s a very difficult decision to make,” Lam said, on closing some schools, “because on the one hand, we want to protect children from infection. But then if we suspend classes, we know there will be drawbacks in relation to their mental and physical development.”
Flight Bans Airport officials have briefed carriers about the impending plan to ban passengers from so-called Group A nations from transiting through Hong Kong International Airport, according to people familiar with the matter, asking not to be identified because the details aren’t yet public.
The suspension will start on Jan. 15 and run through Feb. 14, though the end date will be subject to review, one of the people said. Procedures for how the ban will operate are still to be laid out, another person said. That blow to the city’s aviation industry comes after authorities last week banned residents from returning from eight countries including the U.S., U.K. and Canada.
Lam said Tuesday her government is investigating Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd.’s adherence to pandemic regulations, after the current omicron community transmission was linked back to the airline’s staff. If the airline abused quarantine exemptions that would be considered serious non-compliance. “But this has to be put under full investigation,” she said. “And we will take the legal action once we have the full evidence of what wrong it has got into.”
Virus restrictions are straining an economy that only began rebounding in 2021 after two years of recession. Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg Economics have already cut their growth forecasts for this year to 2.5% and 2% respectively, citing delays to the travel bubble with mainland China and disruptions to consumer spending ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays. The government provided HK$120 billion of fiscal support in last year’s budget to spur consumption and ease joblessness, on top of almost HK$320 billion in virus relief in 2020, centered on a HK$10,000 cash handout to residents.
Lam also announced more funding to support businesses hit by the latest round of social distancing rules, with details to come Friday. The city’s anti-epidemic fund has about HK$4 billion ($513 million) remaining, she added. Economic Impact
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