An emerging coronavirus cluster in Hong Kong originating from a dance group expanded on Thursday with four more people confirmed to be infected, as authorities rushed to contain the spread of Omicron.
The dance cluster, which has now grown to eight confirmed cases and six preliminary-positive ones, has been traced back to a 28-year-old Cathay Pacific flight attendant who returned to the city from Los Angeles on December 27 carrying the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
The flight attendant’s unvaccinated 62-year-old mother contracted the virus and is believed to have spread it to members of her dance group and several others who ate with her at a restaurant in Tin Hau.
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Government pandemic adviser Professor David Hui Shu-cheong of Chinese University said he believed harsh social-distancing measures set to be reimposed on Friday could be relaxed before Lunar New Year if the clusters did not spread further.
“‘Zero infection’ is not a long-term strategy,” Hui added. “When we have a higher vaccination rate and protection in the community, we can live with the coronavirus.”
Among Thursday’s confirmed cases were a 59-year-old woman who ate breakfast with the flight attendant’s mother at Six Garden Restaurant in Tin Hau on New Year’s Eve, and the husband of a dancer friend who also joined them.
Drawing on Octopus card payments, health authorities were able to figure out that a 42-year-old surveyor, whose source of infection was initially unknown, had sat just one metre away from the breakfast group that day.
Health authorities said the 59-year-old’s daughter, 37, who tested preliminary-positive on Wednesday, had visited a Spanish restaurant in Wan Chai two days prior believed to have been hosting a birthday party attended by over 100 guests, including some of the city’s top officials.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor expressed “deep disappointment” at the bureaucrats present, saying they had failed to lead by example.
Hong Kong on Thursday confirmed four new cases tied to the flight attendant’s mother, and one linked to the separate cluster at the Kowloon Tong restaurant. It also confirmed 28 imported cases, and reported more than 30 preliminary-positive ones.
The city’s overall case tally now stands at 12,832, with 213 related deaths. There have been 140 confirmed Omicron cases, most of them imported.
The Centre for Health Protection on Thursday was still trying to track down about 10 diners who ate at Six Garden Restaurant, and urged them to contact authorities as soon as possible.
Another case linked to the dance cluster was a domestic helper whose employer received a visit from the flight attendant’s mother at their home in Causeway Bay. Health officials are working with the Indonesian consulate to locate the helper’s close contacts.
The employer, who has not tested positive so far, was a member of the dance group, and was on the Spectrum of the Seas cruise ship when it was called back to port a day early after she and several others on board were identified as close contacts. No one on the vessel has tested positive so far.
A second domestic helper identified as a close contact of the first tested preliminary-positive on Thursday. Both were among some 130 people who attended services at a Fortress Hill church on Saturday and Sunday.
Health authorities are also investigating a possible transmission at East Ocean Lafayette restaurant in Causeway Bay, where a 63-year-old man who later tested preliminary-positive had sat near the flight attendant’s mother on December 30.
Another preliminary-positive case involved a Happy Valley woman, 67, who dined with another group of dancers on Saturday. Officials revealed late on Thursday that one person from the group, who was infected, was a close contact of the flight attendant’s mother.
Thursday’s lone confirmed case not connected in some fashion to the flight attendant’s mother involved a diner at Moon Palace – a retired woman, 62, who lives in Yau Yat Tsuen.
A total of eight confirmed infections have been linked to that restaurant, where a different Cathay crew member carrying the Omicron variant ate lunch with his father in violation of company rules regarding self-isolation.
Late on Thursday, health authorities announced a preliminary-positive case involving a 49-year-old woman who lives in Kam Huen House at Kam Fung Court in Ma On Shan.
Officials said she had not visited Moon Palace, but she was classified as a close contact of a confirmed case, a 34-year-old construction worker, from the restaurant. The unvaccinated woman was asymptomatic.
The spreading outbreak has prompted authorities to reimpose tough social-distancing measures, including setting a 6pm curfew on dine-in services and shutting 15 types of venues such as gyms, bars and beauty salons. The measures will take effect on Friday and are due to last two weeks.
Authorities are also banning passenger flights from eight countries starting on Saturday in a bid to keep out Omicron infections, while Macau will suspend all flights from outside mainland China starting Sunday. Both flight bans will last 14 days.
Additional reporting by Kathleen Magramo
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