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World: Hong Kong warns of worsening COVID-19 outbreak as Carrie Lam defends hamster cull

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Hong Kong authorities have closed down a second apartment block in an attempt to halt a COVID-19 outbreak as Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended a pet hamster cull that has angered animal rights activists.

Ms Lam said on Saturday that a second Kwai Chung apartment block, home to more than 2,000 people, would be shut down for five days.

On Friday, officials shut down another Kwai Chung building after more than 20 cases were linked to it, with food delivered from outside three times a day and mass testing underway.

By Saturday, officials recorded some 105 cases in Kwai Chung, including confirmed and preliminary positive tests.

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In total, some 16 buildings in the area would face various restrictions and compulsory testing, affecting some 35,000 residents, Ms Lam added.

Hong Kong has warned that Covid-19 infections could be growing exponentially, with more cases spreading due to an outbreak in pet hamsters.

On Tuesday, officials ordered the killing of about 2,000 hamsters from dozens of pet shops after tracing a COVID-19 outbreak to a worker at a shop, where 11 hamsters later tested positive for the virus.

"You have to understand we have to strike a balance," Ms Lam said.

"I understand pet owners will be unhappy but we do have to take public interest as our first priority."

Thousands of people have offered to adopt unwanted hamsters amid a public outcry against the government and its pandemic advisers.

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said animals do not appear to play a significant role in spreading COVID-19.

However, Hong Kong authorities said they were not ruling out transmission between animals and humans.

Hong Kong has been grappling with a local Omicron outbreak traced to several Cathay Pacific crew members who dined at bars and restaurants across the city before testing positive for the Omicron variant.

Ms Lam urged people to avoid gatherings ahead of next week's Lunar New Year.

The situation is testing Hong Kong's "zero COVID" strategy, which is focused on eliminating the disease, with schools and gyms already shut, restaurants closing at 6 pm and air travel with many major hubs severed or severely disrupted.

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Video: Hong Kong bans U.S, UK flights on COVID concern (Reuters)

Locking down homes, Hong Kong takes COVID lesson from Beijing .
Residents in the city prevented from leaving apartments as authorities race to halt spread of Omicron.At Kwai Chung Estate, the site of a growing Omicron outbreak, authorities have placed three blocks under lockdown for five to seven days. On Thursday, the city, which has adopted a strict “zero COVID” policy to align with mainland China, reported a daily record of 164 cases.

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