Quarantine occupancy rates jump as infections rise

Hong Kong’s quarantine facilities are the fullest in more than three months after officials revived the Covid Zero tactic of mandatory centralized isolation to contain the spread of new sub-variants.

More than 50 people -- close contacts of people who test positive for a sub-variant -- are in government-run facilities, with occupancy hitting the highest since February this month. The overall number is likely higher as the government doesn’t release figures for Penny’s Bay, the biggest isolation camp for confirmed Covid cases and close contacts.

So far, officials have only enacted the quarantine policy for cases linked to sub-variants, mainly BA.2.12.1, citing their infectiousness. Hong Kong’s daily caseload has been creeping higher: it topped 600 for the first time since April this week and local infections of BA.2.12.1 have reached 62, up from 34 nine days ago. Many of the new infections are of unknown origin, indicating that the sub-variant is spreading in hidden transmission chains.

There have been two suspected local infections of BA.5, one a worker at the airport and the other an employee at a quarantine hotel.

While it’s a small number in the city of about 7.4 million people, the return of one of Hong Kong’s harshest virus policies has stoked concerns about whether more zero-tolerance measures will be resurrected.

Harsh curbs have already prompted an exodus of residents and damaged Hong Kong’s standing as a global financial hub, with business groups warning the city needs to further loosen virus curbs to restore confidence. Fears of potential further backtracks have also cast uncertainty over the city’s ability to host events from rugby sevens to a possible visit by high-level Chinese officials to mark the city’s July 1 handover anniversary.

The Hong Kong government previously said that new sub-variant cases were being isolated in government facilities as a precautionary measure, and the move doesn’t signify a change in its overall quarantine and isolation policy.