Hong Kong will tighten social distancing measures again from Wednesday amid growing concerns of a devastating third wave of coronavirus infections, after 52 new cases were reported.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, announced the new measures on Monday after weeks without any cases of local transmission of the virus.
The government will limit group gatherings to four people – from 50 – a measure last seen during the region’s second wave in March.
Twelve types of establishments, including gyms, cinemas, libraries and gaming centres, must shut down for a week, and restaurants will only be allowed to give out takeaway after 6pm.
Of the 52 new cases, 11 were new imported cases. The other 41 included 21 linked to known local clusters and 20 where the source of infection has so far been unidentified.
Hong Kong has recorded 1,522 cases of coronavirus infection and only eight deaths.
A major cultural factor behind the comparatively low death rate is Hong Kong’s experience of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak, in which 299 people died.
Its Sars experience meant the region was quick to act early this year on coronavirus, installing hand sanitisers and setting up thermal scanners in malls and offices.
The first case of the virus in Hong Kong was reported on 23 January. A second wave occurred in mid-March, almost entirely due to imported cases and repatriation flights.
"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 a news conference on Monday.
The measures were the result of a three-way tug of war between considerations related to public health, economic impact and social acceptability, she said.
Lam also said civil servants will work flexible hours and that wearing face masks will be mandatory on public transport.
Earlier on Monday, the organiser of the Hong Kong Book Fair, which draws about a million visitors annually and was due to start on Wednesday, said the event will be postponed to a later, unspecified date.
At least three other July fairs and expos were also postponed.
Hong Kong's Education Bureau on Friday announced the suspension of all schools from this week.
Cinemas in Hong Kong were previously closed for a period of six weeks between the end of March and early May. Hong Kong also closed schools in January until the end of April.
Experts believe a third wave of the virus in Hong Kong could be the most severe since the epidemic started.
“This third wave of infections is by far the most severe since the epidemic started, even worse than back in March,” Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, told the South China Morning Post.
Among the 33 preliminary positive cases is a Hong Kong immigration officer stationed at a Shenzhen border checkpoint, as well as at least two taxi drivers.
In the UK, health experts are warning ministers that a second wave could be imminent following the decision to further ease restrictions from early July.
Last week, a professor of global public health said Britain could see a second wave “in as little as a few weeks”.
Devi Sridhar, who acts as public health adviser for Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, warned of “constant outbreaks” as lockdown restrictions ease across the country.
I look at what’s happening in several U.S. states including my home state Florida; I look at Israel and Spain and Iran and...and I know that everyone wants the economy to go full steam ahead in the UK. But I fear we will be in another lockdown within months, if not weeks.— Devi Sridhar (@devisridhar) July 8, 2020
She tweeted: “I know that everyone wants the economy to go full steam ahead in the UK. But I fear we will be in another lockdown within months, if not weeks…
“Eliminate the virus over the summer then open up safely. Otherwise enter winter & flu season in a dangerous halfway house.”
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