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New Covid Variant Found in Hong Kong as Shanghai Cuts Tourism

Traveller with new variant came from South Africa, while new infections show the growing challenge it faces in trying to eliminate local clusters

National health officials had said earlier this month that China's aim is not to remain at zero infections, but to make sure local clusters can be detected and contained as quickly as possible. Photo: Reuters


A handful of local Covid-19 cases in eastern China have prompted Shanghai to limit tourism activities and a nearby city to reduce public transport, as China insists on zero tolerance against letting clusters spread.

The cases emerge as Hong Kong reported the arrival of a potentially dangerous new variant.

Two cases of the B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant have been recorded in Hong Kong, local health authorities confirmed on Thursday evening following genome sequencing analysis.

One is a traveller who had flown in this month from South Africa, believed to be the origin of the variant. The second case was an arrival from Canada who stayed in a quarantine hotel room opposite that of the first case.

Extra Quarantine Ordered

Hong Kong authorities have ordered 12 other guests who stayed on the same floor at the quarantine hotel to undergo extra two weeks of compulsory quarantine at a government facility.

Whole genome sequencing analysis by the University of Hong Kong further confirmed that both cases had highly similar genetic sequences and the viruses belonged to the newly emerged lineage.

“The sequences are similar to those found in South Africa and Botswana, supporting that [the person] arriving in Hong Kong from South Africa was the index case,” the Hong Kong government said in a statement.

Scientific information on the public health significance about this lineage is lacking at the moment. It is classified by the World Health Organization as “Variants Under Monitoring”.


Three New Cases Reported

Meanwhile, Shanghai city detected three domestically transmitted Covid-19 cases with confirmed symptoms for November 25, official data from the National Health Commission (NHC) showed on Friday. The last local symptomatic infection in Shanghai was reported in August.

The new infections came just days after China contained its biggest outbreak caused by the Delta variant, suggesting the growing challenge in efforts to eliminate local clusters.

National health officials had said earlier this month that China’s aim is not to remain at zero infections, but to make sure local clusters can be detected and contained as quickly as possible.

Shanghai has suspended travel agencies from organising tourism that involves trips between the city and other province-level regions.

Residential Compounds Sealed

The financial hub of 24.9 million residents has sealed up a few residential compounds deemed of higher infection risk, and two local hospitals have halted some face-to-face services to comply with Covid control.

Xuzhou in Jiangsu province, a nine-hour drive from Shanghai, reported one locally transmitted asymptomatic carrier for November 25 who was a close contact of a Shanghai infection. China counts asymptomatic cases separately.

The city of 9.1 million population has suspended all its three subway lines, cut some citywide, as well as long-distance bus services and closed a few entrances on highways linking it and surrounding areas.

It advised residents not to leave town for unnecessary reasons, and those who have to travel must show proof of a negative test result within 48 hours before departure.

Major Events Suspended

Xuzhou demanded suspensions of larger face-to-face public activities including concerts, sports events and exhibitions. It also required all schools to halt their offline classes between Friday and Sunday, and asked universities to tighten management on students’ requests to leave campus.

Hangzhou city in the eastern Zhejiang province also detected two local asymptomatic infection for November 25, the NHC data showed.

As of November 25, mainland China had reported 98,583 confirmed cases with symptoms, including both local ones and those arriving from abroad. The total death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Kevin Hamlin and George Russell




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Kevin Hamlin

Kevin Hamlin is a financial journalist with extensive experience covering Asia. Before joining Asia Financial, Kevin worked for Bloomberg News, spending 12 years as Senior China Economy Reporter in Beijing. Prior to that, he was Asia Bureau Chief of Institutional Investor for ten years.


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