Hong Kong bans social gatherings of more than 2 people to curb surge in COVID-19 cases

Hong Kong bans social gatherings of more than 2 people to curb surge in COVID-19 cases

Man looks at an empty food court in Hong Kong
A man wearing a face mask following the coronavirus disease outbreak looks at an empty food court with social distancing markers, at a shopping mall in Hong Kong, China, Jul 20, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Lam Yik)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong on Monday (Jul 27) 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 face masks in all public places, including outdoors. 

Local authorities reported 145 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, of which 142 were locally transmitted, setting a new daily high just hours after the city announced its toughest measures yet to curb a community outbreak.

The measures, which will take effect from Wednesday, are the first time the city has completely banned dining in restaurants. It builds on measures introduced last week to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Restaurants will still be allowed to serve takeaway meals. 

"The situation is very worrying," said Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, adding that the current outbreak is the most severe the city has experienced.

The measures will be in place for seven days, he said.

READ: Commentary: How did Hong Kong get to a third wave of COVID-19 infections?

Last week's measures saw a ban on dining in restaurants after 6pm and the continued closure of 12 types of venues - including gyms and entertainment centres - until Jul 28.

The announcement also mandated face masks in all public indoor areas, including malls and markets, for two weeks from Jul 22.

A spike in recent cases was mostly due to people not wearing masks, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said when announcing last week's measures.

Hong Kongers were early adopters of widespread mask wearing, but now the government has made it
Hong Kongers were early adopters of widespread mask wearing, but now the government has made it compulsory even when outdoors, and limited gatherings to two people. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

"This is the most critical time for Hong Kong. We ask citizens to be patient and stay at home as much as possible," she added.

Since late January, more than 2,600 people have been infected in Hong Kong, 20 of whom have died. ​​​​​​​

READ: COVID-19: For kitchen-less Hong Kongers, new ban on restaurant dining is a bitter pill

After seemingly ending local transmissions for weeks, new infections in Hong Kong have hit triple figures on a daily basis, sparking fears that the new outbreak is spreading out of control.

More than 1,000 infections have been confirmed since early July - more than 40 per cent of the total since the virus first hit the city in late January.

Authorities have warned that citizens have become too lax about wearing masks and social distancing.

People wearing protective face masks walk at Mid-Levels Central, following the coronavirus disease
People wearing protective face masks walk at Mid-Levels Central in Hong Kong, China, Jul 22, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

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 city.

Hong Kong's Hospital Authority has said new cases are being found faster than public hospitals can take them in, according to public broadcaster RTHK.

China's liaison office in Hong Kong said on Sunday that the central government had made clear it would boost the city's capacity in coronavirus tests and help set up hospitals especially for infected patients. 

READ: Hong Kong tightens COVID-19 quarantine rules for sea and flight crews

Local authorities had previously announced plans to convert a large exhibition centre near the city's airport into a temporary field hospital.

Cheung on Monday said Beijing had agreed to help build the 2,000-bed facility, similar to those used in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the deadly virus first emerged.

"These hospitals were built with marvellous speed in mainland China," Cheung said.

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Source: Agencies/dv/zl

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