Hong Kong reports first untraceable local cases of Covid-19 variant; bans flights from Nepal

The CHP warned of the severity of the situation and called on the public to get the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (XINHUA, BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong reported on Thursday (April 29) night the first untraceable local infections of a highly transmissible Covid-19 variant.

A 39-year-old domestic helper and a 10-month baby girl living with her in a residential building of Tung Chung were confirmed to have contracted the N501Y mutant strain of novel coronavirus, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said in a statement.

Given the high transmissibility of the variant, all asymptomatic residents of the building involved will be put under compulsory quarantine.

All residents were required to take Covid tests and will be taken to serve their three-week quarantine in government centres even if they test negative.

Mr Ronald Lam, controller of the government's Centre for Health Protection, said on Thursday night that the source of the person's infection remained unknown, and that preliminary test results showed the variant N501Y, which was first found in South Africa, and a mutation, E484K, which may help the pathogen resist vaccines and antibody treatments.

"Given it is the first locally infected case in the community involving mutant strains and it also transmitted to one of the family members, we think the situation is very grim," Mr Lam said.

"We have to conduct a series of measures for prevention and control."

The lockdown of an entire building could fuel frustration with Hong Kong's erratic Covid response, with business owners and residents alike angered by inconsistent and confusing measures, including the stopping and starting of in-person school classes and Byzantine new rules for restaurants that can stay open later if staff and patrons have been immunised.

As the adult patient visited a church in Tsing Yi earlier this month, the CHP will also arrange compulsory quarantine for her close contacts and conduct virus testing for other related people.

With the appearance of the variant in communities, the CHP warned of the severity of the situation and called on the public to get the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

Meanwhile Hong Kong will stop allowing passenger flights from Nepal to land in its airport from Saturday.

Nepal will be specified as extremely high-risk over Covid-19 under a flight suspension mechanism aimed at preventing imported cases, the Hong Kong government said on Thursday night in a statement.

The mechanism was first imposed on flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines earlier this month. The restrictions over the three countries will also remain effective, the statement said.

According to the mechanism, if five or more visitors from the same place were confirmed positive for Covid-19 with the N501Y mutant strain in seven days, all passenger flights from that place will be prohibited from landing in Hong Kong for two weeks.

The city is working to incentivise vaccinations as its roll-out is hampered by distrust of the local government and concerns about the efficacy of Chinese vaccines.

People coming from Hong Kong who are participating in a quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore due to start next month must have had two vaccine doses at least 14 days before flying.

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