At least 20 Hong Kong lawmakers, the city’s police chief and several other senior officials are being sent to centralized quarantine after attending a birthday party on Monday, in an embarrassing political and public health headache for the city’s already deeply unpopular government.
In all, around 170 people — all the guests at the party, as well as their close contacts — are to be sent to a centralized quarantine facility, city officials announced on Friday, after two people who attended tested positive for Covid. Already, around 60 people have been sent to Penny’s Bay, a facility of shipping-container-like dormitories on an outlying island.
The revelation came as Hong Kong, which had gone months without any local transmission, prepares for a new outbreak linked to the Omicron variant. And it followed vigorous calls from the government — which has imposed some of the harshest quarantine and social distancing measures in the world — for residents to avoid public gatherings.
The party, at a Spanish tapas restaurant, was for Witman Hung, a local delegate to the Chinese national legislature, and its guest list was a who’s who of the city’s political elite. Attendees included Caspar Tsui, the city’s home affairs secretary; Raymond Siu, the police commissioner; Au Ka-wang, the immigration director; and 20 lawmakers, who were just sworn in for a new term this week.
At least one of those lawmakers, Junius Ho, also traveled to Shenzhen two days after the party to meet with a top Chinese government official.
At a news conference on Thursday after news of the party emerged, Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, said she was “very disappointed” in the government officials. Several of them have also issued apologies.
“I have reflected on this incident and shall be more vigilant in future,” Mr. Au, the immigration director, said in a statement on Friday. (Earlier, Mrs. Lam had declined to answer questions about whether Mr. Au used a contact tracing app to check in at the party, as required by law; his statement did not address that issue.)
Mr. Au had already been fined last year for breaching social distancing rules at a hot-pot dinner in March.
Earlier on Friday, officials had said only a handful of the lawmakers and officials would be sent to quarantine, as the others had shown that they left before an infected guest arrived around 9:30 p.m. But later in the day, the health authorities said a second guest, who had been present from 6 to 8 p.m., had also tested positive — leading every partygoer to be quarantined.
The scandal was likely to dent the already-low public trust in the government, which has been battered by widespread pro-democracy protests in 2019, followed by a sweeping political crackdown in the years since. A poll last month showed that only 25 percent of Hong Kongers surveyed approved of the government’s performance.