Cathay Pacific is being investigated and faces possible legal action over an outbreak of COVID-19 in Hong Kong that began with the airline’s employees, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) said yesterday.
The revelation came as Lam announced the suspension of all kindergarten and primary schools until after the Lunar New Year early next month.
Like China, Hong Kong maintains a “zero COVID” strategy that has largely cut the international finance hub off from the mainland and the rest of the world for the past two years.
A recent outbreak traced to Cathay Pacific air crew who breached home quarantine has sparked a dramatic tightening of already strict social distancing controls and travel restrictions, causing renewed anger among residents and businesses.
Lam said that authorities were investigating “whether this airline has complied with the regulations.”
“We will take the legal action once we have the full evidence of what wrong it has gone into,” Lam said in English.
The revelation piles new pressure on Cathay Pacific, which has been badly affected by the pandemic and has no domestic market to fall back on.
Cargo flights, the one area where the airline made some cash, have been slashed recently because new quarantine rules imposed on crew have left managers struggling to find enough pilots.
Lam’s government is facing growing anger over there being no end in sight to COVID-19 restrictions at a time when rival business hubs are learning to live with the virus.
Her administration, which is also carrying out a crackdown on democracy advocates and Beijing critics, has hewed to China’s approach and says restarting travel with the mainland must come before the rest of the world.
However, mainland China is battling its own outbreak and appears to be in no rush to open to Hong Kong, leaving the territory facing a double isolation.
Lam’s government has also failed to persuade a lot of people to get vaccinated, especially elderly people, with just 62 percent of the population inoculated, despite ample supplies.
That makes Hong Kong the third-least vaccinated place in a list of the IMF’s 39 advanced economies, above only Latvia and Slovakia.
Among people aged 80 or older — the demographic most at risk from severe COVID-19 illness — only 23 percent have taken a first vaccine dose.
In related news, Hong Kong is to start offering COVID-19 vaccines for children over the age of five, Lam said.
Children over five will be able to get the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine, Lam said.
Authorities have cleared the other vaccine available in Hong Kong, made by Pfizer-BioNTech, for children aged 12 or older.
“I am optimistic and confident we can overcome the situation,” Lam said.
Lam said that a disciplinary investigation was still going on into the behavior of 13 senior government officials who attended a birthday party for a delegate to China’s legislature.
Two of the party guests tested positive for the virus.
According to the latest findings more than 200 people attended the party and the number might grow, Lam said.
“This is the most unfortunate event because of the large number of people involved,” she said, adding the officials should have complied with her appeal for people to avoid large gatherings.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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