Hong Kong bans flights from eight countries, including Australia, and all cruises

Mrs Lam said the government would ban indoor dining after 1 p.m. 18:00 from Friday and close swimming pools, sports centers, bars and clubs, museums and other venues for at least two weeks. Future cruise trips would be canceled.

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“We have not yet seen a fifth wave, but we are on the verge,” Lam said.

The global financial hub has stuck to a zero-COVID strategy by largely isolating itself from the world and enforcing a draconian and expensive quarantine regime.

On December 31, a series of three months without community affairs ended with the first local transmission of the new Omicron variant.

Since then, authorities have struggled to track down and test hundreds of people who had been in contact with a handful of Omicron patients. However, one patient had no known compounds, which increased the fear of a major outbreak.

“We are concerned that there may be silent transmission chains in the community,” Lam said. “Some confirmed cases had a lot of activities before they were aware they were infected.”

The latest contact tracing campaign was launched by a patient dancing with about 20 friends in a central park on New Year’s Eve. Two of the fellow dancers, one of whom was a home helper, came out positive in the initial tests.

The helper’s employer and eight other of her close contacts then went on a cruise on January 2nd.

As part of its coronavirus restrictions, Hong Kong has restricted cruises to short trips in nearby waters, with ships asked to operate at reduced capacity and only allow vaccinated passengers who test negative for the virus.

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The Spectrum of the Seas ship, which returned a day early, had about 2,500 passengers and 1,200 employees on board.

The nine close-contact passengers were isolated from the rest of the people on board, and preliminary tests taken during the voyage yielded negative results, authorities said.

“The Spectrum of the Seas is taking appropriate action in accordance with Department of Health guidelines,” Royal Caribbean told Reuters in a statement.

The nine close contacts were sent to a quarantine center, while the rest of the passengers and staff will undergo several mandatory tests in the coming days, the government said.

In addition, people who have been to dozens of places in Hong Kong around the same time as the close contacts with recent patients have been issued mandatory test reports, the government said in a separate statement.

Victoria Park, the newly opened M + Museum of Modern Art, Ferries, Restaurants, Shops, Clinics were among the places mentioned.

Gabriel Leung, University of Hong Kong’s dean of medicine and a government adviser, told public television station RTHK that there were probably “five-to-10 invisible transmission chains” in the city.

“There is no time to waste,” Mr Leung said. “We need interruptions.”

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