Hong Kong Minister attends party, sent to quarantine

Lam slams officials for engaging in risky activities as the city battles COVID-19 cluster

Hong Kong’s government on Thursday reprimanded 10 senior government officials, including its Home Secretary, for attending a party as the Special Administrative Region (SAR) battles its first local cluster of Omicron cases. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she was “highly disappointed” that the officials attended a party on Monday night, one of whose attendees later tested positive for COVID-19.

The SAR on Friday will begin implementing a raft of measures, including a 6 p.m. curfew for dining establishments and the closure of bars and gyms, after health officials said there were concerns of local transmission after months of no local COVID-19 cases. The recent local cases were traced to two members of the airline Cathay Pacific’s air crew who had violated isolation protocols. Hong Kong reported 38 new cases on Thursday, of which 5 were local cases, and the SAR currently has 348 active cases, the highest in a year.

Among the 10 officials at Monday’s event was Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui, who Ms. Lam said has been sent to the government’s central quarantine facility in Penny’s Bay for isolation after having been identified as a close contact.

Ms. Lam on Thursday announced that the authorities were taking a hard stand on the officials. Some of those in attendance at the party were top officials of the SAR government, including the police commissioner, head of the financial services authority and head of the anti-corruption agency.

“Principal officials or other senior officials of the SAR government have to perform their respective duties in observing the rules promulgated by the Food and Health Bureau, and also watch their own behaviour,” Ms. Lam was quoted as saying by public broadcaster RTHK.

“They should not be engaged in activities which will carry risks and create more work for the CHP [Centre for Health Protection] and make things more complicated.”

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that the party had “sparked fears of a COVID-19 cluster emerging embarrassingly within the establishment,” just as Hong Kong has called on the public to adhere to new restrictions.

Hong Kong has also banned flights for two weeks from eight countries. The measures are part of its “Zero COVID” approach to keep cases at zero through mass testing and quarantine, as well as continued restrictions on air travel and mandatary 21 days quarantine for most international arrivals.

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