Asian financial hub Hong Kong banned flights from eight nations, including the Philippines, on Wednesday as part of strict new virus curbs, with Omicron outbreaks spiraling out of control from Europe to the United States.
Aside from flights from the Philippines, those coming from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, Britain and the United States will also be banned for the next two weeks from midnight on Saturday.
The new coronavirus variant is spreading rapidly across continents, leaving governments rushing to roll out vaccine boosters and bolster healthcare systems as infection numbers reach new highs.
Britain, the United States, France and Australia have all announced record case numbers in recent days, while China has imposed lockdowns in two cities and rolled out mass testing for millions as it doubles down on its “zero COVID” policy ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the city was shuttering bars and gyms and canceling evening restaurant dining after Omicron was detected in the international business hub.
The restrictions are the latest economic blow to a city that has kept cases low but left residents cut off from the rest of the world with tight border controls.
Like mainland China, Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s harshest controls – including weeks-long quarantine periods, targeted lockdowns and mass testing.
The city had recorded 114 Omicron cases as of Tuesday evening, with a small community outbreak traced to Cathay Pacific airline staff sparking the latest curbs.
Lam said health officials feared the strain was silently spreading within the community.
Hong Kong also ordered a cruise ship carrying 3,700 people back to port for testing after nine people were found to be close contacts of Omicron patients.
To the north in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, at least 12 million residents were ordered to take COVID-19 tests Wednesday after just 11 Omicron cases were detected.
The central city is under a partial lockdown, joining millions more in the nearby cities of Xi’an and Yuzhou also living under stay-at-home orders.
Britain breached 200,000 cases for the first time on Tuesday, Australia posted almost 50,000 and France registered more than 270,000, with all three countries easily topping their previous records.
President Emmanuel Macron warned people in France not yet vaccinated that he planned to make life difficult for them by limiting access to key aspects of life.
The government is seeking to push through legislation that will make vaccination compulsory for cultural activities, to use inter-city trains or visit a cafe, sparking a backlash among those opposed to further government edicts.