Hong Kong will stick with its “dynamic-zero” strategy to contain Covid-19 , the city’s health minister said on Friday, as a new cluster of infections at a restaurant in Sheung Wan sent authorities scrambling to trace hundreds of diners and their contacts. The cluster is the third to be reported by health authorities over the past two days, following infections at a public housing estate in Kennedy Town and a billiards centre in Hung Hom. Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee reaffirmed the city’s commitment to the “dynamic-zero” approach of containing an outbreak as fast as possible, despite earlier speculation among local pandemic experts that mainland China might gradually shift away from the strategy. “‘Dynamic-zero infection’ has been our goal. We did not deviate from it and we hold fast to it,” she told lawmakers. Her comments came after World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus earlier this week said China’s strategy was not “sustainable” given the virus’ behaviour. But his remarks quickly drew criticism from Beijing, with the foreign ministry calling them “irresponsible”. Hong Kong on Friday recorded 298 new cases, including 21 imported infections, and three more deaths. The overall tally of infections stands at 1,207,963, with 9,359 related fatalities. With social-distancing measures set to be further relaxed on May 19, including the reopening of bars and an extension of restaurant dining hours, the Centre for Health Protection said it would continue to monitor and assess the Covid-19 situation, including current outbreaks. “For social-distancing measures in the subsequent stage, we are doing daily assessments because every day is different,” centre controller Dr Edwin Tsui Lok-kin said. “We take … every assessment and every day’s cases into account.” He said the authorities were still trying to contain any outbreaks as soon as possible and hoped no uptick in cases would occur that would hinder the relaxation of Covid-19 control measures. According to health authorities, at least 30 cases, comprising 29 diners and an employee, were reported at Sky Cuisine restaurant on Des Voeux Road in Sheung Wan. The oldest diner was 117 years old and the youngest eight. More than 10 tables were involved, with patients dining there between 6pm and 11pm last Saturday, the eve of Mother’s Day. More than 200 patrons and 50 staff who were in the restaurant at the same time must undergo compulsory testing. Health officials said more cases could be found. Forty-eight environmental samples were collected from the restaurant and government officers checked the ventilation system. How Hong Kong vaccine pass scheme works if you’ve just arrived in city The number of infections at Sai Wan Estate in Kennedy Town also rose, with 22 more cases uncovered after a lockdown for mandatory testing of residents was implemented on Thursday afternoon. Sixteen cases were uncovered at West Terrace, one of five blocks on the estate and where six infections were detected earlier. The block’s 22 cases were found across 14 flats on various floors. Two cases were found in Centre Terrace and four in North Terrace. Two more cases were linked to the Hung Hom billiards centre cluster, bringing the total to six. The virus was found on one of three billiards tables patients had been at. The centre has been asked to thoroughly disinfect the premises and suspend business temporarily. Government pandemic adviser Professor David Hui Shu-cheong said he believed the restaurant outbreak was just an individual incident, given eateries had already been allowed to operate under more relaxed social-distancing measures. “Ventilation in some restaurants might not be good enough, or perhaps there was environmental contamination,” Hui said. “I believe these concern individual restaurants only … as we haven’t seen outbreaks in many eateries.” He said observations would be needed for a few more days to see if other restaurants were affected, before social-distancing rules could be further relaxed next Thursday. “If many more clusters are emerging, the government might need to think differently,” Hui said. Respiratory medicine expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu said the emergence of new clusters could be down to people engaging in more activities over the recent long weekends, as well as Mother’s Day celebrations. He said if the authorities could step up their surveillance and contact-tracing work, social-distancing measures could still be further relaxed safely. The health minister, meanwhile, said the government would need to discuss the resumption of cross-border quarantine-free travel with mainland authorities, noting the rules could not be decided unilaterally by one of the parties. “When the epidemic is well under control, the relevant work can resume,” Chan said, without giving a timetable. 1 in 5 Hong Kong families unhappy, with mothers suffering more: survey Chan said the government hoped to see a further fall in the daily number of new infections, which had hovered between 200 and 300 cases over the past week. Earlier, another government pandemic adviser, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, said the virus could not be wiped out and would continue to exist, adding that temporarily eliminating it would extract a high cost due to the potential disruption to society and the economy. “Both eradication and elimination of the virus didn’t work. We are entering a state of ‘controlling’ the pandemic to ensure a low level of cases so as to prevent our medical system from collapsing,” he said. Yuen also warned that simply monitoring daily infections was no longer reliable to determine the pandemic’s development, and suggested authorities focus on indicators such as the number of deaths, patients with severe conditions and cases detected in hospitals. “As long as these numbers do not go up, we can continue relaxing social-distancing rules and measures at the border,” he said. Yuen said that despite signs of an outbreak in Kennedy Town, he believed the local population had already acquired protection against severe Covid-19 conditions as more than 90 per cent of the population had developed antibodies from being infected or vaccinated. “We don’t need to panic at all as we have already formed an immunity barrier against severe conditions,” he said, adding the most important factor was to get three vaccine doses. Infectious diseases expert Dr Ho Pak-leung also said fully vaccinated residents should not worry about eating out in Kennedy Town. He suggested that authorities avoid sparking panic by informing the public of each area’s sewage testing results and categorising the samples using different grades based on their viral levels. News of a potential cluster in Kennedy Town first emerged when the medical faculty of the University of Hong Kong issued a warning to staff and students by email and on social media on Thursday morning. The post called on them to avoid having lunch in the area, citing infection risks. Hong Kong health experts call for shorter grace period for third Covid jab The faculty issued a statement on Friday morning to express regret over media reports accusing it of causing panic among residents, adding the reminder for staff and students was issued after consensus from the authorities. “We had hoped that staff and students could get the message before lunch … to avoid spreading the virus to hospitals and other medical facilities … Most staff and students of the faculty might be working and interning at various medical facilities every day,” a faculty spokesman said. “It was a responsible move to deliver the message internally.” Separately, Chan also said that an online platform which would allow people to submit records of Covid-19 vaccinations obtained overseas was likely to launch next week. The platform will provide an alternative method for anyone who was inoculated overseas to obtain the required vaccine pass to enter locations such as restaurants and leisure venues. Residents are currently required to make such a declaration at post offices and upon arrival at the airport.