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

Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, said those schools must stop face-to-face classes by Friday at the latest until the end of the Lunar New Year school vacation, which ends in early February.

The string of tough new measures follows the city last week’s ban on all passenger flights from eight countries, including the UK and the US. Cinemas, gymnasiums and bars were closed and restaurants banned from catering after 6 p.m.

Kindergartens and primary schools must stop face-to-face classes by Friday © Bobby Yip / Reuters

Critics have questioned the scientific basis for some of the latest tight restrictions imposed by the government. Chinese territory recorded 279 cases of the Omicron variant on Monday, most of them imported and detected during isolation.

The restrictions follow an embarrassing saga involving at least 13 senior officials attending a party this month – in violation of government advice to avoid large gatherings – where two of the more than 200 attendees initially tested positive for Covid – 19.

On Tuesday, Lam was asked about allegations by a former official that she attended a wedding banquet despite official advice. The CEO admitted to being there, but said it happened a month ago when the pandemic was relatively stable and she was only there briefly.

Lam also said the government would “take legal action” against the city’s de facto flag carrier, Cathay Pacific, if there was sufficient evidence of an investigation, after company crew members airplanes broke home quarantine rules at the end of December, one of them later sowing an epidemic in a restaurant.