Covid outbreak hits Hong Kong banks, gyms, international schools

[HONG KONG] A coronavirus outbreak at a Hong Kong gym has spread to international schools and other fitness centres, while positive cases also appeared in the banking community just as the city was emerging from a prolonged round of social restrictions and venue closures.

The flareup is linked to a 27-year-old trainer from Ursus Fitness, a gym in Hong Kong Island's Sai Ying Pun neighbourhood popular with expatriates. The gym said five of its staff also tested positive for Covid-19, as well as a client.

Hundreds of close contacts have been sent to mandatory quarantine in government facilities, including gym members, students and school teachers. Employees at some banks were advised to work from home.

At least three schools have been closed, just weeks after the government allowed in-person teaching to resume for the first time since late November.

Kennedy School, which belongs to the English Schools Foundation group of international schools, said in an email to parents Thursday that it would close its campus due to a positive Covid case connected to Ursus Fitness.

Kellett School and the French International School also said they closed campuses due to positive cases, but didn't state whether they were linked to the gym.

A BNP Paribas spokesperson said one of the bank's Hong Kong employees tested positive and that staffers who sat near the person will work from home for 14 days.

The new cluster is another blow to a city that has endured multiple waves of the virus. Venues ranging from gyms to beauty parlors were only allowed to reopen on Feb 18, after being closed for over two months. Others, including bars and beaches, remain closed.

With new daily cases in the low double-digits or less for weeks, banks and other financial companies had gradually eased work-from-home policies as social distancing rules were relaxed. Some increased the percentage of employees allowed back in offices, while others used a split-team approach.

The number of infections in Hong Kong is low, at 11,128 in total, but the city's quarantine measures are among the strictest in the world. Close contacts of positive cases are required to enter centralised surveillance facilities for two weeks, while residents entering from outside of China must spend 21 days in designated hotels.

Meanwhile, fewer residents are getting Sinovac Biotech's coronavirus vaccine following reports of side effects. The number of people who received their scheduled shots at community vaccination centres dropped to 72 per cent on Wednesday from more than 90 per cent last week.



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