The emergence of a fifth wave of Covid-19 in Hong Kong has steeled the authorities to toughen countermeasures, and again come to the aid of industries and individuals hard hit by business interruptions with HK$3.57 billion (US$457.7 million) in subsidies. There is no alternative if the emerging outbreak of the Omicron variant is to be contained and there is to be a realistic prospect of reopening the border with the mainland sooner rather than later. The government has not only extended the new social-distancing rules – including no restaurant dining in after 6pm – until the third day of Lunar New Year, but also the chief executive said on Friday that if there was no major outbreak by then “we will restore business operations but they will be subject to vaccination requirements”. The vaccination mandate had previously been delayed until February 24. The extension of the social-distancing rules has put a damper on celebrations for Lunar New Year, a time for traditional family feasts and get-togethers. Popular flower markets, the largest in Victoria Park and Mong Kok, will also have to be cancelled or curtailed under rules affecting large-scale events. The idea of meeting for dinners of ordered-in food in cramped flats rather than restaurants and being forced to buy symbolic flowers and fruit from shops instead of in the uplifting atmosphere of a fair is anathema to many, but there has to be patience and understanding. Omicron is many times more transmissible than previous variants of the coronavirus, requiring strictly enforced social-distancing rules to combat the disease. Health officials need more time to eliminate all cases linked to two clusters centred on a restaurant at Festival Walk and a group of women who met to dance socially in Victoria Park. Hong Kong extends Covid-19 restrictions, flight ban through Lunar New Year The lengthening of the ban on dining-in at restaurants from 6pm to 4.59am, closure of 15 types of venues including bars, gyms and beauty parlours, and temporary cancellation of flights from the eight worst-affected countries are understandable measures. But residents also have to help prevent the spread of the contagion by staying at home as much as possible and staying clear of areas authorities perceive as high risk. In the days leading up to and during the holidays, extended family gatherings have to be avoided. It would seem to be an inauspicious start to Lunar New Year. But the measures are necessary if Hong Kong is to move confidently forward, the immediate goal being to resume quarantine-free travel with the rest of China. Omicron is a severe threat to the city’s health and economic well-being and tough measures are necessary to stop its spread. An end to the outbreak can come about only if local infection numbers remain stable and no cases are untraceable.