HONG KONG: Hong Kong reimposed social distancing measures on Monday (Jul 13) to combat a sudden spike in COVID-19 infections, banning more than four people from gathering in public and requiring passengers to wear face masks on public transport or risk a US$650 fine.
Some businesses will also be closed and restaurants restricted over when they can serve diners.
The finance hub was one of the first places to be struck by the coronavirus when it emerged from central China.
The city has had impressive success in tackling the disease with just over 1,400 infections and eight deaths. In the last two months, local transmissions had all but ended.
However, in the last two weeks, a cluster of local infections emerged and officials believe the disease is spreading undetected in the densely populated city of 7.5 million.
On Monday, Hong Kong reported 52 new cases of COVID-19, including 41 that were locally transmitted.
Amid growing worries over an escalating "third wave" of coronavirus infections in the city, chief executive Carrie Lam announced fresh anti-virus measures on Monday.
Alongside a ban on more than four people gathering in public, restaurants will only be able to serve takeaway food from 6pm to 5am.
Twelve types of businesses, including gyms, beauty salons, nightclubs and karaoke venues, must close.
Civil servants will work flexible hours.
Hong Kongers have widely adopted face masks to deal with the pandemic but on Monday authorities made wearing face coverings on public transport mandatory for the first time. Those who refuse to wear masks face a HK$5,000 (US$650) fine.
"This is a time for tightening," Lam said at a press conference, adding the measures would be reviewed every seven days.
"Unless we have an effective vaccine which can be widely used in the community, we may need to co-exist with the virus for a period of time," Lam told reporters.
The announcement is a new body blow to the city's economy, which was already mired in recession before the pandemic hit.
Health secretary Sophia Chan said officials were trying to "strike a balance" between social distancing and keeping businesses open.
Earlier on Monday, the organiser of the Hong Kong Book Fair, which draws about one million visitors annually, said the event due to start on Wednesday will be postponed to a later, unspecified date due to the coronavirus.
At least three other July fairs and expos were also postponed.
Hong Kong's eighth fatality from the coronavirus, announced on Monday, is a 95-year-old woman.
Police also said a South Korean man who tested positive for the virus jumped out of a moving minibus as he was being taken to compulsory quarantine.
Police later detained the man.