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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam holds a press conference Jan. 5 to announce new COVID-19 measures in Hong Kong. Photo: Daniel Suen/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong on Wednesday banned all incoming passenger flights from eight countries, including the United States, to prevent the spread of Omicron, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: The new restrictions mark the city's strictest COVID-19 restrictions since the pandemic began two years ago as officials seek to maintain a "zero-covid" policy amid the spread of Omicron, per the Post.

Driving the news: Under the new restrictions, beginning Jan. 8, all flights from Britain, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Philippines, France and India will be banned for at least two weeks.

  • The government will also ban indoor dining after 6 p.m. local time, in addition to closing swimming pools, sports facilities, bars, museums and other venues, Reuters reports.
  • Future cruises will also be canceled, per the new restrictions.

The big picture: The measures come as community spread in Hong Kong remains low, with only six confirmed Omicron cases detected, but vaccination rates also remain low, especially among the elderly, according to the Post.

  • Only about 20% of people above 80 are fully vaccinated, according to government data.

What she's saying: "We are on the verge of another outbreak," Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said, adding that the new restrictions are more "decisive and comprehensive" than previous restrictions that have been implemented to curb the virus.

Go deeper: Omicron dashboard

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

Minneapolis and St. Paul to require vaccine or test for indoor dining

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

New vaccine-or-test requirements for indoor dining and drinking in Minneapolis and St. Paul take effect Wednesday.

The big picture: A growing number of major cities, including Boston, Chicago and New York, have instituted similar requirements in an effort to protect public health.

Yes, but: Questions about enforcement, logistics and effectiveness of the temporary measures here remain.

31 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

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