In Hong Kong, the strict quarantine system is being pushed to its limits by the Omicron Cluster. It’s being seen how far Hong Kong’s zero-tolerance policy for COVID-19 can go. A cluster of community Omicron Cluster infections quickly fills quarantine centers, which prompts officials to close many schools.
Some of the world’s strictest coronavirus containment rules are in place in the financial center. People who come to the city and people who are close to people who have been infected must be quarantined for up to 21 days. That worked well when Hong Kong had a month-long streak of no local cases. Now that 42 community infections have been found in the last two weeks as the Omicron Cluster variant spreads across the city, officials are running out of space and some experts are questioning whether the zero infection policy is sustainable.
More than 4,000 people have been put in quarantine because they came into close contact with people who had either been infected in Hong Kong or had been brought in from outside. This is what Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday, as she announced new measures. The government said there were almost half the units in five government quarantine centers that had been used.
On Monday, the government said that it was cutting the quarantine period for close contacts from three weeks to two. This move was made to ease the pressure. Arriving travelers, on the other hand, still have to stay in quarantine for three weeks, tho.
Hong Kong will close all schools and kindergartens by Friday, following stricter social distancing measures that were announced last week. These measures included cutting the hours of restaurants and closing swimming pools, gyms, amusement parks, bars, and entertainment facilities.
People in the city’s business groups and expatriate communities aren’t happy about the number of restrictions. They say that Hong Kong’s zero-COVID border policies are hurting the city’s reputation as a financial center in the region.
In a statement last week, Fitch Ratings said that because of Hong Kong’s travel restrictions, it will be even more difficult for foreign multinationals to set up shop there. Fitch says that if the government doesn’t change its goal of zero infections, the social and travel restrictions will only add to the risks to its growth and public finances from future waves of the COVID-19 virus.
A professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, Ben Cowling, says that “I don’t think we can keep doing zero-Covid.” It’s going to be hard to keep up. Having too few restrictions means you have to stay in lockdown mode for a longer time, which isn’t ideal.
On the other hand, Prof. Cowling said that he thinks Hong Kong will take stricter steps to stop the spread of the disease quickly. The government’s recent moves show that it will keep taking a hard line, which is in line with mainland China but not with the U.S., the U.K., Singapore, and other places that are learning to live with the virus with fewer restrictions than when the virus first spread.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Lam said that the city’s zero-tolerance policy had helped control COVID-19 without shutting down the city, which would have been very bad. There have been almost 13,000 confirmed cases and 213 deaths in Hong Kong since the start of the pandemic.
“I’m still hopeful and confident that we can get thru this new batch of cases,” she said.
The city has stopped flights from eight countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and France, until Jan. 21. This is to stop the flow of new cases. A negative test result on arrival, a 21-day quarantine at a government facility or hotel, and many more coronavirus tests are now required for people from more than 150 countries who want to come to the United States.
All people who get sick when they arrive in Hong Kong must be taken to the hospital. They make up most of the 360 positive cases that have been found in Hong Kong in the last two weeks. This has put a lot of strain on the city’s health care facilities. Around 400 people are now in the care of public disease control centers and public hospitals.
Almost half of the businesses surveyed by the Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a group of businesses in Hong Kong, say they’re thinking about moving staff or functions out of the country because they don’t know when quarantine restrictions will end.
Most of the more than 150 companies in the financial services industry that belong to the group say they have trouble attracting and keeping good employees in Hong Kong, and a third of them say the problems are very bad.