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UK COVID-19 variant likely found in Hong Kong as city secures vaccine supplies

UK COVID-19 variant likely found in Hong Kong as city secures vaccine supplies

A health worker collects a swab sample from a woman at a makeshift testing centre on a football field on Dec 8, 2020, following the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong. (Photo: Reuters/Lam Yik)

HONG KONG: A new variant of the novel coronavirus that is spreading rapidly in Britain appears to have infected two students who returned to Hong Kong from the UK, Hong Kong's Department of Health said on Wednesday (Dec 23), as the city secured 22.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Virus samples from the two students, who returned to the Asian financial hub in December, appeared to match the British variant of the coronavirus, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, an agency under the Department of Health, told a daily press briefing.

More analysis needed to be done to verify the samples, she said.

READ: As mutated COVID-19 variant spreads, UK PM Johnson mulls stricter lockdown

READ: France to reopen border with England for travellers cleared of COVID-19

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, at a separate news briefing on Wednesday, said the government had secured 7.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and was looking for a fourth source to ensure adequate supply for the city's 7.5 million residents.

Residents would be able to choose which vaccine they want to take, in response to safety concerns, she said.

"I urge the public to get vaccinated for the good of themselves and their loved ones," Lam said.

Commentary: Here’s why taking the vaccine is necessary even if it’s optional

Hong Kong has already ordered 7.5 million doses of China's Sinovac Biotech's and 7.5 million doses of Fosun Pharma-BioNTech's vaccines. The first batch of one million vaccine doses from Sinovac is expected to be delivered to Hong Kong in January.

Lam said the government had passed an emergency law to allow authorities to circumvent the normal regulation procedure to rush vaccines to residents.

Hong Kong has banned all flights arriving from the United Kingdom since Tuesday, becoming the first city in Asia to announce such a halt.

Hong Kong saw a spike in the number of cases at the end of November, which prompted authorities to once again shut down dining in restaurants after 6pm local time and close gyms and beauty salons. The measures are slated to be in place until at least Jan 6.

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Source: Reuters/jt

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