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'Ban on arrivals from high-risk countries must stay'

A specialist in respiratory medicine said on Monday that people who have spent time in India, Pakistan and the Philippines should be banned from coming to Hong Kong for as long as it takes for the coronavirus situation in those places to improve.

The government has announced a two-week ban on flights from the three countries after identifying two community cases in the SAR of a highly-infectious mutant strain of Covid-19. It says multiple people arriving from India, Pakistan and the Philippines have also been found to have the strain.

Anyone who has stayed in these countries for more than two hours in the previous 21 days is also banned from flying into Hong Kong via other places.

But Dr Leung Chi-chiu said the 14-day ban announced will not be enough.

“We will have to keep this ban unless the situation there improves or unless we have devised other measures to reduce the chance of importation of these dangerous variants into Hong Kong,” he said.

University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said the government acted too slowly, noting that the number of imported Covid-19 cases has been increasing for the past two to three weeks.

He also urged the government to step up anti-infection measures at quarantine hotels, saying the virus could have been transmitted among guests and staff.

However, Professor David Hui, who advises the government on its anti-epidemic strategy, said he believes the first person to be found with the coronavirus variant in the community did not contract the virus locally, but had an exceptionally long incubation period.

The patient tested negative for Covid-19 during his 21-day quarantine after he arrived from Dubai last month, but was found to carry the mutant strain last week.

A friend he lived with during his stay in Hong Kong has also been infected with the variant.