HONG KONG: Hong Kong will ban all non-residents from entering the financial hub from Wednesday (Mar 25), its leader said on Monday, as it tries to halt a recent spike in coronavirus infections from people returning from abroad.
Despite its proximity to the Chinese mainland, the financial hub has managed to stave off a runaway outbreak of the deadly virus partly thanks to the public overwhelmingly embracing face masks, hand hygiene and social distancing.
Yet in the last two weeks, the number of cases has more than doubled to 318 infections after locals and foreign residents flooded back once the pandemic spread to Europe and North America.
"From midnight of Mar 25, all non-Hong Kong residents flying in from overseas will not be allowed into the city," chief executive Carrie Lam said, adding that the order would be in place for at least two weeks.
All individuals coming from Taiwan and Macau, including Hong Kong residents, will also need to be quarantined, Lam said.
The city's airport - the eighth busiest in the world - would also bar all transit passengers, Lam added.
Last Tuesday, Lam said that all arrivals to the city would be subject to a 14-day quarantine, but the new restrictions did not apply to arrivals from Macau or Taiwan. Residents were also advised to avoid all non-essential travel.
The government said on Monday it was also studying whether to suspend the sale of alcohol in licensed bars and restaurants in the city, which has 318 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and four deaths.
About 8,600 restaurants and bars with a license will also be banned from selling alcohol but will, for now, be allowed to remain open.
Lam did not specify when the booze ban would be brought in, but said emergency legislation was being drafted.
"ONE NIGHT STANDS"
Health officials had become increasingly alarmed about people gathering in large numbers in the city's entertainment districts in recent weeks.
Last week, a slew of infections was found among patients who had all been out in Lan Kwai Fong, the city's most famous nightclub street.
Hong Kong's tabloids ran lurid pieces saying one of the infected patients who went to bars in Lan Kwai Fong, a local, may have had one night stands.
The vast majority of the recent spike in infections have been from Hong Kong nationals returning to the city.
But there has also been some anger directed at the drinking habits of some western white-collar workers as many of the city's inhabitants isolate themselves.
Last week the Apple Daily newspaper carried a front-page photograph of a big group of foreigners drinking in the open while sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, causing outrage on social media.
Restaurant groups had urged the government to allow them to remain open.
The partial booze ban appears to be a compromise - a way to reduce the number of people socialising without ordering a complete shutdown of the already struggling food and drink industry.