Hong Kong has confirmed its first Omicron cluster, bringing an end to its long streak of zero locally transmitted cases and prompting fears of a wider outbreak as the city prepares to ring in the new year.
Two cases of local transmission were detected on Thursday — a 76-year-old and a 34-year-old, both fully vaccinated with no recent travel history. They tested preliminarily positive for Covid-19 after eating at a restaurant on Monday, where they were exposed to an air crew member who was later confirmed to be carrying the highly transmissible Omicron variant, authorities say.The crew member, an employee of Cathay Pacific, the city’s flagship carrier, arrived in Hong Kong from the United States on Christmas Day. He had tested negative twice, before testing preliminarily positive for Omicron on Tuesday. He is fully vaccinated with a third booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine and remains asymptomatic, according to the Department of Health.
Health authorities announced Friday they are also monitoring 19 new cases, mostly imported and all suspected to be Omicron — including a cargo pilot who visited several popular restaurants and bars on Monday, just days after returning from the US. On Tuesday he was determined to be a close contact of another patient and sent to the government’s quarantine center; by Wednesday, he had tested positive for the virus.
Hong Kong hasn’t seen a locally transmitted Covid case with an unknown source for nearly three months; the last such reported case was on October 8. Though the city had reported a number of imported Omicron cases from quarantined overseas travelers in December, the variant hadn’t broken to the local community until now.