HK extends some restrictions after new virus cluster emerges

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Border closure to be extended as nine new infections emerge

HONG KONG : Voicing worries over a new cluster of coronavirus cases, Hong Kong decided yesterday to keep its borders almost completely closed to foreigners until mid-September, and extended a ban on gatherings larger than eight people by two weeks.

Authorities had first announced in March that all arrivals in the Asian financial hub needed to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine period - a measure that has deterred all but a few foreign visitors, Reuters reported.

Travellers from Macau, Taiwan and mainland China also currently have to spend 14 days in quarantine, though the measures for them are set to expire on July 7.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan said the decision to keep the curbs in place had been influenced by the discovery of a new cluster of nine coronavirus cases, which appeared to be locally transmitted.

The first two cases in the new cluster - a husband and wife - were confirmed on Sunday. Since then four neighbours, two of the wife's colleagues and a fire department medical officer who had sent the woman to hospital have been confirmed to have been infected. None had been abroad recently, Reuters reported.

The infected woman is a night-shift worker at a Kerry Logistics warehouse, where she labels food items imported from Britain, local media reported.

The limits on the size of gatherings prompted police to reject for the first time an application of the annual vigil tens of thousands of Hong Kong people traditionally hold on June 4 in a downtown park to commemorate pro-democracy protesters killed in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square 31 years ago.

The two-week extension is also likely to thwart plans for legally organising anniversary marches of the anti-government protests that started in June last year and resumed recently after Beijing announced plans to impose national security laws on Hong Kong, Reuters reported.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said repeatedly the health measures had no political motive.

Hong Kong has reported 1,094 coronavirus cases, mostly imported, and four deaths since the outbreak began in late January.

South Korea also saw a resurgence in church clusters as it reported 38 more cases yesterday. This brings the total to 11,541, according to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

All of the new domestic cases were reported in Seoul and Incheon, west of the capital, and Gyeonggi province that surrounds Seoul, Bloomberg reported.


Several clusters linked to churches in Seoul and the surrounding areas have emerged.

Total cases linked to 23 small churches in Incheon and Gyeonggi province reached 45.

Mass infections can occur if there continues to be more cluster infections, health authorities warned.

"Large-scale infections are feared to come in the Seoul metropolitan area, but we can succeed in containing the virus spread when citizens raise their guard against the pandemic to break the chain of virus transmissions," Senior health official Sohn Young-rae said.