Hong Kong suspends in-person school lessons as Covid-19 cases climb

Local media reported that the suspension of face-to-face classes at primary and secondary schools could come as soon as Sunday (Nov 29). PHOTO: ST FILE

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, XINHUA) - Hong Kong authorities said they will halt in-person classes at all kindergartens, primary and secondary schools from Wednesday (Dec 2) until the beginning of the schools' Christmas break.

The suspension also includes special needs schools and schools offering non-local curriculum.

Hong Kong reported 115 new coronavirus cases on Sunday (Nov 29), 62 of which were linked to a cluster involving dance studios. There were 24 infections of unknown origin and six were imported, Department of Health official Chuang Shuk-kwan said at the daily Covid-19 briefing.

The latest figure of 115 cases is the highest in nearly four months, as the authorities battle a renewed wave of the virus.

The number was up from Saturday's 84 and the highest since Aug 1, when 125 cases were reported. It compared with the July 30 record of 149.

Hong Kong has closed bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues for the third time this year, through at least Thursday. The authorities warn that the resurgence is worsening rapidly.

The latest jump in cases forced a delay in the launch of a "travel bubble" between Hong Kong and Singapore, originally scheduled for Nov 22, for at least two weeks. The authorities are also reopening a temporary Covid-19 treatment hall near the city's airport.

Earlier on Sunday, the two biggest teachers' unions in Hong Kong made separate appeals to the government to suspend all physical classes at primary and secondary schools, public broadcaster RTHK reported.

In-person classes at all kindergartens and lower primary school levels have been suspended earlier following an outbreak of upper respiratory tract infections.

Separately, Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi Kwong, said Hong Kong would require staff of residential care homes to undergo mandatory testing for Covid-19. He said those who do not comply would face fines and could be barred from working.

In an interview with a TVB programme, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said her administration is considering tougher penalties for people who breach social distancing regulations, as the current fine of HK$2,000 (S$345) has not been effective enough in deterring violations, RTHK reported.

The Asian financial centre is battling a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, with a fast-expanding cluster linked to at least 21 dance studios. As of Sunday, there were a total of 479 cases of infections linked to the dance studios.

Since late January, 6,239 people in Hong Kong have been infected with the virus that causes Covid-19, of whom 109 have died of the disease.

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