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Hong Kong will suspend in-person classes for all primary and kindergarten pupils for at least three weeks amid an outbreak of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, said these schools must halt face-to-face lessons by Friday at the latest until the end of the lunar new year school holidays, which finish in early February.

The tough round of new measures follows the city last week banning all passenger flights from eight countries, including the UK and the US. Cinemas, gyms and bars were closed and restaurants prohibited from operating dine-in services after 6pm.

Kindergartens and primary schools must halt face-to-face lessons by Friday © Bobby Yip/Reuters

Critics have questioned the scientific basis behind some of the latest restrictions by the government. The Chinese territory has recorded 279 cases of the Omicron variant as of Monday, most of them imported and detected during isolation.

The restrictions come on the heels of an embarrassing saga involving at least 13 senior officials attending a party this month — in contravention of government advice to avoid big gatherings — where two out of the more than 200 attendees initially tested positive for Covid-19.

On Tuesday, Lam was asked about allegations from a former civil servant that she went to a wedding banquet despite official advice. The chief executive admitted attending but said it happened a month ago when the pandemic was relatively stable and she was there only briefly.

Lam also said the government “will take legal action” against the city’s de facto flag carrier Cathay Pacific if there is sufficient evidence from an investigation, after crew members of the airline breached home quarantine rules in late December, with one of them subsequently seeding an outbreak at a restaurant.