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Hong Kong expands government work-from-home plans as Omicron bites

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By Reuters
"What's the point?" Hong Kong resident questions quarantine ordeal
"What's the point?" Hong Kong resident questions quarantine ordeal   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

HONGKONG – The Hong Kong government said on Thursday it would extend a work-from-home plan for civil servants as health officials warned tougher measures could follow amid a worsening COVID-19 outbreak.

Aside from those involved with essential and urgent work, all other civil servants – who had been due to resume work on Friday – will remain working from home until Feb. 11.

Health officials said on Thursday many untraceable transmission chains of the Omicron variant were spreading across the global financial hub – a warning that comes as many Hongkongers enjoy Lunar New Year gatherings.

“There is quite severe community transmission at the moment,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of the city’s health department.

“The government is closely monitoring the situation and we will announce further measures as appropriate,” she said.

Officials recorded 142 cases on Thursday, figures that are expected to rise, with a further 160 cases classed as preliminary positive. In total, Hong Kong has recorded 213 COVID-19 deaths and has had 13,912 confirmed cases, according to the government.

On Thursday last week, the city marked 162 new infections – a daily record since the pandemic started in 2020.

The city has been grappling with triple-digit rises for much of the last two weeks as Omicron outbreaks threaten a “zero-COVID” policy that has seen Hong Kong become one of the most isolated major international cities, with 90 per cent of flights curbed.

City leader Carrie Lam last week extended other citywide restrictions until Feb. 17.

Schools, playgrounds, gyms and most venues are shut, while tens of thousands of people must do daily coronavirus tests.

Some banks and other large firms last week implemented new work-from-home plans.