Hong Kong's leader says probe into COVID-19 party scandal 'isn't over'

Carrie Lam says the public needs to know 'exactly what happened,' as officials order a cull of small pets.
By Lee Yuk Yue
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Hong Kong's leader says probe into COVID-19 party scandal 'isn't over' People stand under a banner for a Hong Kong pet shop where a customer and employee tested positive for COVID-19 after handling hamsters, Jan. 18, 2022.

Police in Hong Kong have arrested two former flight attendants with the city's flag-carrier Cathay Pacific for violating quarantine rules, as the city's leader said the government is continuing to investigate a party attended by several high-ranking officials that has been linked to a cluster of COVID-19 cases.

The arrests came after Cathay fired two members of its aircrew for breaching its COVID-19 protocols with "unnecessary activities" during their quarantine period. The two men subsequently tested positive for the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam told reporters on Tuesday that investigations are continuing into dozens of pro-establishment politicians, high-ranking government officials and Cathay Pacific staff who attended a birthday party at the center of a large cluster of COVID-19 cases.

Beijing has asked Hong Kong’s leader to “take swift action” against 13 officials embroiled in the scandal around the Jan. 3 birthday party of National People's Congress (NPC) delegate Witman Hung, after which two party guests tested positive for COVID-19.

Photos of the party showed Hung and many of his guests warbling into karaoke microphones into the early hours with no masks on at a bash that was attended by dozens of high-ranking establishment figures.

Beijing has warned that any delay could hurt Lam's government's credibility, with local media reporting that suspension, demotion, pay cuts or even dismissal are all possibilities.

"I can assure everyone that the investigation of Cathay Pacific and [Hong Kong government] officials attending the banquet isn't over," Lam said on Tuesday. "The public need to know the facts, and I also want to be fair to the company and to my colleagues."

"What exactly happened? This has to be explained to the public," she said.

Meanwhile, the city's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said it was "shocked" at a government order calling on people to hand over more than 2,000 hamsters and other small animals to be destroyed after staff and hamsters at a Causeway Bay pet shop tested positive for COVID-19.

"[The announcement] did not take animal welfare and the human-animal bond into consideration," the organization said via its Facebook page. "The SPCA sincerely hopes the [government] will not take any further drastic action before reviewing its approach."

It said pet owners shouldn't "abandon" their pets, but maintain strict personal hygiene.

Anyone who has bought a hamster in the city since Dec. 22, 2021 is now being "strongly advised" to hand it over so it can be tested for COVID, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

But the animals will be euthanized regardless of the results of the test, it said, adding that the infected hamsters were recently imported from the Netherlands, and that all of the pets at the shop would be destroyed.

Dozens of other pet shops selling hamsters have been told to close, and give the animals to the authorities to be put down, the report said, quoting Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) official,Thomas Sit as saying that the decision had been taken "out of caution."

Around 150 of the pet shop's customers are now in quarantine, RTHK said.

Lam told a news briefing on Tuesday that the animals were found to be infected with the delta strain of COVID-19, rather than omicron.

"What we are worried about now is that the hotel case [reported] earlier was infected with omicron, but the salesperson in the pet store was infected with delta, so we are very worried that there may be two mutated virus strains circulating in Hong Kong at the same time," Lam told reporters.

Lam said 60-70 percent of confirmed cases in Hong Kong are currently omicron, with the rest delta.

A spokesperson for the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) called on Hong Kong residents to avoid all non-essential travel outside the city, particularly to places deemed high risk under government guidelines.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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Paul Square
Jan 18, 2022 05:49 PM

HK has previously quarantined close contacts of a microwave oven and now is putting in quarantine close contacts of hamsters; you couldn’t make this stuff up 😂

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