People visit a promenade next to Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on March 31, 2022.) DALE DE LA REY / AFP)
HONG KONG - Hong Kong reported 5,823 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, as health officials said they detected the new "XE" Omicron variant in two travelers back in early February.
Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said in a news briefing that the new infections comprised three imported cases and 5,620 local ones. It marked the first time in six weeks for the city's daily infection count to fall below 6,000.
Chuang said 2,743 of the cases were confirmed through nucleic acid tests and 3,080 by rapid antigen tests.
The travelers (infected with the XE mutant strain) have been isolated and treated upon arrival at the airport. The variant has not been detected in the community so far.
Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection
She added that the three imported infections involved two aircrew members who flew in from Bahrain and Canada respectively on March 31, as well as one traveler from Germany via Doha.
When asked about the new mutant "XE" strain of COVID-19 tha was first discovered in the UK on Jan 19 this year, Chuang said experts from the University of Hong Kong had identified two such cases in travelers back in early February. She stressed that the variant has not spread into the community.
"The two travelers have been isolated and treated upon arrival at Hong Kong International Airport. The variant has not been detected in the community so far," Chuang said.
"XE" is a recombinant of the original Omicron mutant strain BA.1 and the newer BA.2 which has taken over in the US.
Chuang said that the World Health Organization is monitoring the recombinant variant and that its transmissibility and severity is being investigated.
"We will closely monitor the situation," Chuang added.
The total number of COVID-19 deaths in Hong Kong's fifth wave of the pandemic rose to 7,732, with the mortality rate rising to 0.67 percent, according to Chuang.
Sarah Ho, chief manager (patient safety and risk management) of the Hospital Authority, said 96 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 passed away in the last 24 hours, including 49 men and 47 women aged 38 to 103 years old.
She said 52 were from residential care home and 59 were unvaccinated.
There were also 20 deaths involving 10 men and 10 women between March 19 and 30 that were not reported earlier, Ho said.
She added that 30 critical patients were being treated in hospital intensive care units while 24 patients were in serious condition.
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