US closes consulate in Hong Kong after two employees test positive for COVID-19

HONG KONG: The US temporarily closed its consulate in Hong Kong on Monday (Mar 15) after two members of staff tested positive for COVID-19 in a new outbreak that has rippled through the city’s well-heeled expatriate community.

The two cases emerged during an “ambush lockdown”, a tactic used by Hong Kong authorities to descend overnight on apartment blocks where they suspect there may be cases and test everyone inside.

“We have closed the Consulate General to perform a deep disinfection and cleaning while contact tracing is conducted,” the consulate said in a statement after it was informed of the cases on Monday.

Hong Kong has managed to keep infections low thanks to some of the strictest quarantine measures in the world.

It has recorded around 11,000 infections and 200 deaths since the pandemic began.

In recent days, a new cluster that was first traced to an upmarket gym has swept through wealthier districts favoured by white-collar immigrants who staff the city’s finance industries and consulates.

The gym infection has ballooned to more than 100 confirmed infections while around 750 people deemed “close contacts” have been sent to mandatory government-run quarantine camps.

READ: Hong Kong orders compulsory COVID-19 testing after gym cluster hits financial community

The US consulate infections were first reported by Dot Dot News, an online news outlet operated by the largest pro-Beijing state media group in Hong Kong.

Their report claimed the two consulate staff invoked diplomatic immunity and refused to be quarantined.

That prompted a call from Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing political party to protest outside the consulate, but the gathering was moved to a different district and only a handful showed up.

Hong Kong health authorities said the pair were being placed on a hospital isolation ward and the US consulate said staff members “have abided by all Hong Kong government requirements for the arrival, testing, and quarantine of all diplomatic personnel and their family members”.

In a separate statement, the consulate said it was aware that some US citizens in Hong Kong had concerns about the city’s mandatory quarantine and hospitalisation procedures “particularly in regard to the possible separation of children from their parents”.

READ: Hong Kong’s tough COVID-19 rules see babies isolated, families cramped in tiny spaces

Hong Kong places people deemed to be close contacts with a coronavirus patient in camps for two weeks, including some children and babies.

Youngsters have previously been sent to the facilities, but scrutiny and opposition have become more vocal since the current wave hit wealthy international schools and neighbourhoods. 

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