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COVID-19: Hong Kong extends ban on flights from India, US, seven other countries

The other countries are Australia, Canada, France, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

COVID-19: Hong Kong extends ban on flights from India, US, seven other countries

Citing concerns over a growing COVID-19 outbreak, Hong Kong on Friday extended a ban on incoming flights from eight countries, including the United States, India, and Britain, according to media reports.

The other countries are Australia, Canada, France, Pakistan, and the Philippines. The city also imposed a ban on incoming flights from Nepal until March 4, sources reported.

Flights to Hong Kong are down 90 per cent and hardly any are allowed to transit as the financial hub isolates itself from the world in the hope it can contain a coronavirus outbreak, even though new infections are overwhelmingly local transmissions.

Hong Kong residents expressed growing frustration Thursday after new, tighter coronavirus restrictions went into effect, imposed by city leaders in line with Beijing's zero-COVID policy.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam ordered new strict measures to take effect Thursday as the highly-contagious omicron variant of the virus causes record daily cases.

That includes limiting public gatherings to two people and private ones to members of only two households. Places of worship, hair salons and other businesses were ordered to close.

Such measures are part of Hong Kong's effort to align itself with mainland China's "zero-COVID" policy, which aims to totally stamp out outbreaks, even as infection numbers continue to rise and other countries shift their approach to living with the virus.

Outside a vaccination center in the Sai Wan Ho area on Thursday, retiree Ken Wong waited in a long line to get his first shot so that he would qualify for a "vaccine pass" when it's available.

The latest measures will remain until at least Febuary 24, when the vaccine pass will be rolled out, allowing only vaccinated people to visit places like shopping malls and supermarkets.

Newly confirmed cases fell slightly on Thursday to under 1,000 after hitting a daily record 1,161 on Wednesday, Hong Kong health authorities reported. Overall, Hong Kong has seen only about 18,500 cases of COVID-19 and 215 deaths among its population of some 7.5 million.

Opponents of the zero-COVID approach contend that with nearly 65 per cent of the population fully vaccinated and signs the omicron variant of the virus is less severe for those with some immunity, that it is time to change course.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed over to communist-ruled China in 1997. Under the "one country, two systems" principle, the territory was to retain its own political, social and financial institutions for 50 years after being transferred from British rule.

But China has been tightening its control, stamping out political opposition and curtailing free speech. It imposed a sweeping National Security Law following anti-government protests in 2019, resulting in the imprisonment, intimidation and exile of most opposition voices.

There's a practical reason for complying with zero-COVID policies — to facilitate travel between Hong Kong and the mainland under less stringent quarantine rules than the three weeks or more required of all foreigners arriving in the Chinese mainland.

Beijing will not let Hong Kong's borders to the mainland be reopened unless the city reaches and maintains zero-COVID.

This week, Beijing officials and Chinese state media warned Hong Kong against any changes, saying that adopting a "living with the virus" policy would overwhelm its medical systems, the newspaper South China Morning Post reported.

In the upscale Discovery Bay neighborhood on mountainous Lantau island, home to many foreigners, all residents were ordered tested this week after authorities found traces of the virus in the sewage.

Sewage testing is a common practice in Hong Kong, but government demands for entire communities to be tested if the virus is detected are stretching the patience of residents enduring long lines at testing centers.

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