Agencies / Hong Kong
Multiple Hong Kong officials and lawmakers will be allowed to leave a quarantine camp after one of two coronavirus cases detected at a party they attended was declared a false positive yesterday.
Dozens of senior officials and lawmakers were ordered into Hong Kong’s 21-day quarantine facilities this week as health officials warn of an imminent outbreak due to the Omicron variant.
Hong Kong’s top cop Raymond Siu and financial services and treasury chief Christopher Hui will be among those leaving quarantine after a day-long stay. Authorities earlier confirmed 13 senior officials and 19 lawmakers attended a Monday night birthday bash for Witman Hung, a member of China’s top lawmaking body.
Health inspectors have issued quarantine orders for all 180 or so attendees after finding two coronavirus case among the guests.
But yesterday, health officials said the second case – a woman whose virus test was conducted by her doctor husband – was a false positive. The doctor’s hands were “most likely contaminated” by the Sinovac vaccine when he tested his wife, said microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung after inspecting the clinic with health officials. The woman’s sample raised suspicions as it contained a virus strain which is now only found in vaccines, Yuen added.
Around 80 people will have their quarantine orders rescinded, including more than 10 people who have already arrived at the Penny’s Bay isolation facility.
Firebrand nationalist Junius Ho is expected to be among the lawmakers granted an early release, local media reported.
The other 100 party attendees will remain in quarantine because they were deemed close contacts with the confirmed virus patient.
Health officials said they have not yet found any virus transmission linked to the party.
On Friday night, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam ordered a probe into the 13 officials and promised to take “appropriate action” after completing investigations. The incident triggered a wave of apologies from officials, lawmakers and the birthday celebrant Hung. While the party was legal under rules at the time, health officials had advised people three days earlier to avoid big gatherings.
Lawmakers sent to quarantine will miss the first meeting of the “patriots only” legislature scheduled for Wednesday.
The city has recorded 223 Omicron cases as of Friday night. Lam said in a statement she ordered “detailed” investigations “as to whether the attendance of 13 officials at the banquet constitutes any breach of discipline.”
“I have instructed all officials being subject to quarantine that they should not continue to discharge their duties and that they are required to take their own vacation leave for quarantine.”
The party for the 53rd birthday of Witman Hung, a city delegate to the national legislature, took place on Monday, before new restrictions on social life came into force but after Lam appealed to Hong Kong people to avoid large gatherings. A three-month streak of no transmission within the community ended on Dec. 31, with the confirmation of the city’s first local infection with the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
Several more cases have been detected since and hundreds of their close contacts have been sent to quarantine. Senior officials who attended included Home Affairs Secretary Casper Tsui, Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, police commissioner Raymond Siu and the head of the city’s Independent Commission against Corruption, Simon Peh, authorities said.
All four and others have issued public apologies. It was the second such statement for Au, who paid a fine last year for attending a dinner in a luxury private club with more people than the four allowed at the time.
The global financial hub is one of the world’s last places to stick to a goal of stopping local transmission of the virus altogether, by strict quarantines and largely isolating itself from the rest of the world. The city on Friday banned dining in restaurants after 6pm, closed venues including bars and clubs, gyms, beauty salons and swimming pools, and limited group gatherings to no more than four people.
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