HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG)- Hong Kong ordered 120 school students into quarantine and recommended that an international school shut down after exposure to the family of a Cathay Pacific Airways pilot who tested positive for Covid-19.
The aggressive action was taken after two Cathay pilots, part of a group that is exempt from the standard quarantine requirement that applies to most people entering the city, tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from a trip abroad and re-entering the community.
The wife of one of the pilots is a teacher at Discovery Bay International School, and his two sons are students there.
The potential exposure to the pilots and their close contacts could challenge Hong Kong's month-long streak of infection-free days and comes just as the government is making headway in negotiations to reopen border with mainland China.
The government ordered 120 children who were the wife's students or the sons' classmates into quarantine for three days, officials from the Centre for Health Protection said on Wednesday (Nov 10).
Their quarantine will end if the family members test negative.
Officials also recommended that the school suspend its operations while contact tracing is under way.
People who were at the same venues that the pilots visited after their return were ordered to get tested for the virus.
Anyone who visited Cathay Pacific's headquarters near Hong Kong's airport between Oct 21 and Nov 9 are also required to get a test.
Government officials, saying they are concerned about the risk of community spread, asked people to observe the testing orders closely.
Both cargo crew members came back from Germany on the same flight on Nov 6. They were exempt from quarantine due to their aircrew status.
Any incursion of the virus into the community could deal a blow to Hong Kong's hard-won progress in negotiating a border reopening with Beijing.
A Chinese official in the city said the border with the mainland could reopen with limited capacity in January, a breakthrough that would boost the Asian financial hub's economy, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
Speculation over when quarantine-free travel will resume has been rife.
Last week, Mr Michael Tien, a pro-government politician in the city's Legislative Council and a Hong Kong deputy to China's National People's Congress, said it could be as soon as the end of the year or during the first quarter of 2022.
The South China Morning Post reported on Monday that the borders would be fully open by June 2022 "at the latest", with a phased process beginning in mid-December, citing official sources.
Hong Kong has been ramping up its Covid-19 curbs for months in an effort to convince Beijing that it is taking the virus seriously and show that it is safe to restart travel across the border.
It imposed hotel quarantines of up to 21 days for incoming vaccinated residents and reduced the number of groups that can get exemptions to meet China's "Covid Zero" requirements.
Senior bankers and listed company executives no longer qualify starting on Nov 12, though aircrew members will still be entitled since they perform roles essential to the city's daily operations.
Officials on Wednesday said they will review the management of the remaining quarantine-free groups.