Hong Kong Quarantines 120 Kids As Classmate’s Dad Gets Covid
(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 Ltd. pilot who tested positive for Covid-19.
The aggressive action was taken after two Cathay pilots, part of a group that is exempt from quarantine requirements, were found to be infected after returning from a trip abroad and reentering 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 situation could challenge Hong Kong’s month-long streak of infection-free days if the pilots were infectious when they interacted with others. The risk comes just as the government is making headway in negotiations to reopen border with the mainland China.
The government ordered 120 children who were the wife’s students or the sons’ classmates into quarantine for three days, the Centre for Health Protection officials said on Wednesday. Their quarantine will end if the family members test negative, but could go longer if they are infected. Officials recommended that the school suspend its operations while contact tracing is underway.
About 20 of the children are around the age of five and are in the same reception class as the pilot’s younger son, according to one parent who asked not to be named due to privacy concerns. Each child is allowed one adult to accompany them into quarantine. The school will be shut on Thursday and Friday while a deep cleaning is conducted, they said.
Frustration is growing among the parents who have connected in social media groups, according to the parent, who is part of the city’s banking industry. Those with more than one child are particularly struggling to cope with the sudden restrictions, they said.
The school’s phone went unanswered multiple times on Thursday and there was no immediate response to an emailed request for comment.
There is also a fair bit of uncertainty. The three-day quarantine could become three weeks if the family member they were exposed to tests positive. There has been little sympathy for the kids or their families, the parent said, underscoring how difficult the measures intended to reduce the risk of infection can be for those who have gotten caught up in the control efforts.
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 closely adhere to the tessting orders.
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 to the Asian financial hub’s economy, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
Speculation over when quarantine-free travel will resume has been rife.
Last week, 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 curbs for months in an effort to convince Beijing 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.
Changes in aircrew rules could affect companies and the economy, too. Any move by Hong Kong to restrict aircrew operating cargo flights could disrupt the supply chain of goods moving in and out of the financial hub, Cathay Pacific said in a statement Thursday.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.