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Hong Kong Locks Down Building for Five Days to Curb Omicron - BLOOMBERG

JANUARY 21, 2022

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong is locking down about 2,700 residents for five days, the first time it’s closed off an apartment building for more than 48 hours, in the hope of containing a superspreader event that has already led to at least 16 people testing positive for Covid. 

The government will provide food and other supplies to residents during the lockdown, which began Friday night and runs through Wednesday, said Sophia Chan, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Food and Health. They will be tested every day. 

“There’s need for us to take speedy action to avoid further spread,” Chan said at a briefing Friday evening. “We hope to return to normal before Lunar New Year for people there.”

The unprecedented step at the public housing complex is one of the most drastic measures Hong Kong has launched as it works to eradicate the virus within its borders. The decision was a compromise, since the city-run quarantine facilities where close contacts are typically sent are quickly filling up. 

The city has reported roughly 120 local infections in the past three weeks, after going for more than seven months through late December without any transmission unrelated to international travel. The sudden surge has unnerved authorities and taxed the local infrastructure that’s normally used to house people during quarantine periods.

“We’ve identified a superspreader and there may be some patients in their incubation period,” Chan said, pointing out that the goal is to find hidden cases. “This is for the common good. It’s to protect everybody in Hong Kong.”

The longest previous lockdown in Hong Kong was imposed nearly a year ago and lasted for a weekend. At the time, the goal was to test everyone in the district, and residents could leave once everyone was tested. Since then, the government has implemented only overnight snap lockdowns to quickly carry out tests, then allow everyone to return to work the next day. 

A Year Ago: Hong Kong Imposes First Covid Lockdown in Kowloon Area

Even a limited lockdowns and restrictions on movement create a heavy toll for residents in the densely populated city, which has some of the smallest living spaces in the world. The average apartment size is about 500 square feet. Those in public estates, such as the one that is currently under lockdown, are usually smaller in size.

Hong Kong has shut schools, banned flight routes, ended indoor restaurant dining after 6 p.m. and closed bars, gyms and beaches since omicron snuck past its fortress-like borders in the past several weeks. After just three local infections a week ago, there were 18 confirmed cases on Friday -- the most since March 2021.

(Adds quote from Chan in the sixth paragraph)


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