Carrie Lam, the leader of Hong Kong, announced on Wednesday that the government will implement a number of additional measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, warning that the global financial hub was on the cusp of another outbreak.
The new rules include a two-week ban on flights from eight countries, including the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, the Philippines, France, and India, starting on January 8.
Lam was speaking as Hong Kong authorities commenced a city-wide search for those who had come into contact with a COVID-19 patient and ordered a Royal Caribbean "cruise to nowhere" ship to return to port early, as health officials feared a fifth wave of infections.
By largely isolating itself from the rest of the world and imposing a strict and costly quarantine rule, the global finance hub has maintained a zero-Covid approach. With the initial local transmission of the new Omicron variant on December 31, a three-month period without community cases came to an end.
Authorities have been scrambling since then to track down and test hundreds of people who had come into contact with a small number of Omicron patients. The government said in a statement that "the most strict anti-epidemic measures will be put in place to prevent the mutant strains from spreading."
Hong Kong has restricted cruises to short trips in local waters as part of its coronavirus restrictions, with ships being urged to operate at reduced capacity and only accept vaccinated passengers who test negative for the virus.