Hong Kong yesterday announced further restrictions to curb a surge in COVID-19 cases, including a ban on gatherings of more than two people, a total bar on restaurant dining and mandatory masks in all public places, including outdoors.
The measures, which take effect from Wednesday, are the first time the territory has completely banned dining in restaurants.
Since late January, more than 2,700 people have been infected in Hong Kong, 20 of whom have died.
“The situation is very worrying,” Hong Kong Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung (張建宗) said, adding that the current outbreak is the most severe the territory has experienced.
The measures are to be in place for seven days, he said.
Cheung called on employers to allow staff to work from home, but so far authorities have resisted making such an order compulsory.
“I hope everyone can bear with this,” Cheung told reporters
The territory this month halted dine-in services from 6pm as concerns grew of a third wave of infections, but it allowed restaurants and cafes to function through the day as normal.
However, it has seen a spike in locally transmitted cases over the past three weeks, with Sunday the fifth consecutive day of triple-digit infection figures.
Authorities yesterday reported 145 new COVID-19 cases, of which 142 were locally transmitted, setting a new daily high.
Authorities have warned that residents have become too lax about wearing masks and social distancing.
Over the weekend, they stepped up controls, sealing off popular beaches and introduced new rules to limit movements of ship and flight crews which stop in the territory.
On Sunday, authorities tightened those rules. Only vessels with freight destined for Hong Kong would be able to swap out personnel, but even they would not be allowed to mingle in public and must go straight to or from the airport, or stay in a designated quarantine venue.
The Hong Kong Hospital Authority has said that new cases are being found faster than public hospitals can take them in, according to public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong.
The share of infections of unknown origin remains high at about 40 percent of yesterday’s total, reflecting that hidden chains of transmission continue to surface despite tightened social distancing rules.
China is to help Hong Kong build an emergency field hospital as COVID-19 cases rise, Cheung said.
“The central government has agreed to help us build a ‘Fangcang Hospital’ ... which can provide up to 2,000 beds,” he said, referring to the temporary facilities built in Wuhan, China, when the virus first surfaced.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg and AFP
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