Hong Kong shuts secondary schools over Covid-19 fears

The latest move comes after in-person classes at primary schools and kindergartens were halted on Jan 14, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong will suspend face-to-face teaching in secondary schools from Monday (Jan 24) until after the upcoming Chinese New Year, the authorities said, because of a rising number of coronavirus infections in several schools in the Chinese-ruled territory.

The government moved kindergarten and primary school classes online last Friday, and imposed curbs such as a ban on restaurant dining after 6pm and the closure of venues such as gyms, cinemas and beauty salons.

Schools will stay shut until Feb 7, after the Chinese New Year holidays, the government said on Thursday (Jan 20). While secondary school students in form six who are preparing for exams may have some face-to-face classes, all other levels must cancel or postpone exams and activities.

“The epidemic situation has become more severe in recent days,” the city’s Education Bureau said in a statement. “There have been many confirmed cases of unknown origin.”

The stringent measures return the Asian financial hub to the situation that existed after it first took such steps in 2020.

Hong Kong has followed mainland China’s route of zero-tolerance of local Covid-19 cases, despite its increasingly disruptive and inconvenient effects at a time when the rest of the world is shifting towards living with the virus.

This year, there have been dozens of cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant within the community after the first local transmission was recorded at the end of December.

Health authorities said there have also been transmissions of the Delta variant, not seen for many months. Officials have pointed to growing clusters, including one from a pet store, as presenting a high risk.

Cases in schools of confirmed, or preliminarily confirmed, infections meant that teachers and students need to be tested and quarantined, the Education Bureau said.

Until the end of December, Hong Kong had no local transmissions for more than three months.

In a push to boost the city’s vaccination rate of about 70 per cent, the government has said children aged five to 11 can get vaccines from China’s Sinovac from Friday.

Thousands of people volunteered this week to adopt unwanted hamsters after a mass cull was ordered over fears of Covid-19.

Hong Kong has tightened quarantine restrictions on air crew and suspended for a month transit flights from around 150 countries and territories considered high risk because of the coronavirus.

The city on Tuesday added 18 cases of Covid-19, of which 11 are local, bringing the cumulative total to more than 12,800 cases and 213 deaths.

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