Hong Kong’s streak of infection-free days came to an end with the first local Covid-19 case in nearly two months, just as the government began easing restrictions on international travel.
The new case is somewhat of a mystery: a 43-year-old man with no symptoms and no recent travel history, but Covid antibodies in his blood despite not having been vaccinated, said government officials.
The findings are “compatible with a re-positive case previously undiagnosed,” said a statement Thursday. The man’s virus load is so low that genetic sequencing can’t be performed to determine which strain is involved.
Other residents living in the same building, his colleagues and people who’ve visited the same places he did during the incubation period must now go for compulsory testing as the government tries to head off the risk of the virus circulating locally.
The incident comes as Hong Kong plans to allow vaccinated tourists from all but 10 places in the world to enter the city starting on Aug. 9. Residents and other travelers with positive antibody tests will be allowed shorter stays in hotel quarantine. The easing of some of the world’s tightest border curbs is intended to speed the financial hub’s return to its global business-oriented roots.
Hong Kong is the latest Asian place to face a setback as the region again becomes the pandemic’s global center. Mainland China identified hundreds of cases in its latest outbreak, driven by the highly-infectious delta variant, while Macau closed entertainment venues and started testing its entire city population after four members of the same family were found to be infected with the new strain.
Hong Kong re-imposed quarantine on travelers from the mainland and Macau, though an exception remained for the southern Guangdong province which neighbors the financial city.
The city government has dialed up the pressure on the local population to get vaccinated, requiring civil servants, teachers and nursing home staff to get inoculated or go for regular testing at their own expense, officials said Monday. Schools must have 70% of students in a certain grade vaccinated to fully resume in-person teaching in September.
Hong Kong has fully vaccinated 2.6 million people, about 34% of its population, as of Wednesday. That’s compared to 63% of residents who had completed vaccination in Singapore, 49% in London and 55% in New York City.
Vaccine bookings jumped on Monday and Tuesday after officials announced the new rules. The number of people booking appointments for Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s shot grew to 7,200 on Tuesday from 4,200 on Sunday, while those for the BioNTech SE vaccine rose to 44,600 from 23,100 two days ago. Bookings slipped on Wednesday to 5,600 and 29,700 for Sinovac and BioNTech shots, respectively.