What happened outside of room 5112 at the Regal Airport Hotel in Hong Kong?

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Little is yet known about the new Sars-CoV-2 variant, apparently from South Africa. What appears however: B.1.1.529. also known as “omicron”, apparently spreads very quickly and has probably already reached other countries beyond South Africa and Botswana. Along with Israel and Belgium, Hong Kong is among the first non-African countries affected.

About two weeks ago, two cases of Corona infection in a quarantine hotel in Hong Kong are most likely epidemiologically linked and due to the introduced variant. This was announced Monday by representatives of the Hong Kong health authorities. According to their investigations, those infected were two travelers who – of all things – were staying at the Regal Airport hotel for quarantine.

The investigation by local authorities revealed the following: the two men, both doubly vaccinated, were systematically quarantined; strict rules apply to travelers to Hong Kong. Both were staying at the Regal Airport Hotel, in rooms facing each other.

One, a 36-year-old man – named “Case 12388” in the agency’s newspaper – landed in Hong Kong on November 11 from South Africa and moved into room 5112 at the hotel. quarantine. Before he left for South Africa on October 22, a PCR test was negative, and a first test on his arrival in Hong Kong was also negative – but two days after he was checked in at the Hong Kong quarantine hotel, he tested positive, with an unusually high concentration of the virus, experts note.

The other, a 62-year-old man – “case 12404” – had arrived from Canada a day earlier and had stayed at the hotel, in room 5111. He tested negative again a few days later, on 12 and November 14. – but suddenly showed a very high viral load on November 18. Analysis of the viral genome of the two infected people revealed many identical mutations, which is why experts assume that one infected the other. The younger one infected the older one.

Yuen Kwok-yung, a leading microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the 36-year-old apparently sometimes wore a mask with a breathing flap and sometimes no mouthguard, when he opened the door to the hospital. his room to take food orders or put garbage in the hallway, for example. He said this may have allowed virus particles to spread through the hotel hallway, which experts also criticized as not being ventilated enough.

Yuen, who advises the Hong Kong government on its Corona strategy, calls such face masks with breathing valves “selfish” because they protect the wearer but not passers-by. “Masks like these filter the air when you breathe in, but when you breathe out the air isn’t filtered – that’s not good,” Yuen told the South China Morning Post.

The rapid spread of the variant worries experts around the world. Travel restrictions are the first step. Many countries have adopted this approach since Friday. Whether this is enough to stop the on-going variant from becoming a global threat is anything but fate.

What particularly surprises the experts is that the viral loads of these two with B.1.1.529 in the hotel were very high. This is what epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, who has long researched at Harvard, wrote on the short message service Twitter. This is all the more true, he said, considering that the first PCR tests of infected people, carried out in quarantine, were still negative. It appears that the variant may in fact escape vaccine protection, he wrote. It would be really disturbing news.

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