Hong Kong bans flights, imposes other COVID-19 restrictions

HONG KONG (AP) – Hong Kong authorities announced a two-week ban on flights from the United States and seven other countries and held 2,500 passengers on a cruise ship for coronavirus testing on Wednesday as the city tried to stem an impending omicron outbreak.

The two-week ban on passenger flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK and the US takes effect on Sunday and continues until 21 January.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam also announced that restaurant dining will be banned after 1 p.m. 18.00 for two weeks from Friday. Arcades, bars and beauty salons will also be closed during that period.

“We need to curb 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 brink” of yet another rise.

The measures came as new omicron clusters have emerged over the past week, many linked to several Cathay Pacific crew members breaking the isolation rules and eating at restaurants and bars in the city before testing positive.

Hong Kong has reported 114 omicron variants as of Tuesday, most of which are imported. On Tuesday, it reported its first untraceable case in nearly three months, which authorities said was likely caused by the omicron variant.

Hong Kong officials have moved quickly to block the spread of the variant, closed residential buildings where people have tested positive, and mass-tested thousands of people.

It includes about 2,500 passengers who were detained on a Hong Kong cruise ship on Wednesday for coronavirus tests after health officials said nine passengers were tied to an omicron cluster and ordered the ship to return.

Authorities forced the Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas ship, which departed Sunday on a “cruise to nowhere,” to return a day early Wednesday, according to a government statement.

The ship returned to Hong Kong on Wednesday morning and passengers were kept on board most of the day while awaiting testing.

One passenger, Claudy Wong, said Royal Caribbean had tried its best to follow the pandemic rules.

“The pandemic has lasted so long, in fact, passengers like us boarding the cruise are already prepared for such situations to happen,” Wong said.

Royal Caribbean said in a statement that the nine guests were immediately isolated and all tested negative and that the company worked closely with the authorities to comply with epidemic prevention policies and regulations.

It said guests who were on the affected ship would receive a 25% refund of their cruise price. The ship’s next voyage on Thursday was also canceled because the crew must undergo a test and those guests will receive a full refund.

The city has reported a total of 12,690 confirmed coronavirus infections as of Tuesday, including 213 deaths.

For more information, visit the Washington Times COVID-19 Resource Page.

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