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Sunday, Oct 02, 2022

'New strains, new threat' as expert warns of seasonal outbreaks

The two new Omicron strains BA.4 and BA.5 might spread in Hong Kong and lead to a significant rebound in cases, an infectious-diseases expert warned.
University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said the new strains are currently spreading in the United States and appear to be different from the BA.2 strain that drove the fifth wave here.

Those who recently contracted Omicron will not be as vulnerable to the new strains, Ho said, but uninfected residents - especially those aged 60 and above - should get jabbed as soon as possible.

"We still have 330,000 residents aged 60 and above who are unjabbed," he said, adding that over 1.1 million of the city's elderly have only received two vaccine doses.

Ho acknowledged that Hongkongers pay attention to their personal hygiene and frequently wash their hands but "evidence shows Covid-19 transmission is most often airborne" and not through physical contact. "That means the best protection is vaccination and face masks," he said.

Although fifth-wave concerns have eased, Ho urged authorities to step up mobile and at-home vaccination services for elderly residents and care homes.

He specified that BioNTech jabs should be added as an option in these services, saying: "I find it quite disappointing the government is mostly administering Sinovac jabs via these channels even though BioNTech is more effective in generating antibodies, especially among elderly people.

"It seems to me we have entered a global postvaccination period in which the pattern of cases has transitioned to seasonal flare-ups instead of consistent mass outbreaks. Eventually, people will be able to ditch masks and social-distancing measures."

Ho singled out Singapore as an example, saying it has "lifted most of its Covid measures" while some countries have "canceled compulsory masking."

Ho's call came as Hong Kong recorded five Covid deaths and 321 new infections. Further, some 2,300 schools have resumed in-person classes. However, 25 schools recorded outbreaks yesterday with 24 students and two staff members testing positive.

The Centre for Health Protection's Albert Au Ka-wing said the average daily caseload over the past seven days has dropped to 319 - 30-percent lower than the 415 infections per day in the previous week. However, Au added, transmission risks may rise as families gather over the coming weekend to celebrate Buddha's Birthday and Mother's Day.

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