The government is considering implementing tougher controls on social gatherings, senior officials said on Thursday — after the planned alcohol ban was deemed to be insufficient to regulate social distancing.
The Executive Council, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s top policy advisory body, will hold a special meeting this afternoon to discuss the relevant measures, people familiar with the matter told China Daily.
The most important thing is to limit gatherings at restaurants
David Hui Shu-cheong, member of the government’s four-person medical advisory team
Hong Kong on Thursday recorded 43 new novel coronavirus infections, the third-highest daily increase since January, pushing the tally to 453.
Because of a surge in imported cases from overseas, the number of new infections has risen by 245 in the past week, surpassing the city’s total of 208 cases from Jan 23 to March 20.
Under Secretary for Food and Health Chui Tak-yi said in a press briefing that the situation remains worrying, urging the public to avoid going out and to strictly maintain social distancing.
Noting wide criticism in the community of the government’s planned alcohol sales ban in bars and restaurants, Chui said the administration has been listening to different suggestions. It is currently discussing new measures to stop social gatherings. These will be announced once they have been fully discussed and agreed upon.
He also urged all international arrivals to observe 14 days of home quarantine — whether mandatory or not. So far, 54 alleged violators of home-quarantine orders have been sent to quarantine camps. Law enforcement agencies are collecting evidence to prosecute them.
Speaking after an event in Hong Kong, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po also said the government is having discussions to regulate social distancing.
Discussing whether the SAR will follow the United Kingdom and further subsidize seriously affected businesses, Chan said the government is keeping an open mind on the issue.
David Hui Shu-cheong, an expert on infectious diseases and member of the government’s four-person medical advisory team, said the most important thing is to limit gatherings in restaurants, including a ban on eating at restaurants during dinnertime.
A total of 14 new patients with the virus on Thursday had no recent travel history. Twelve of these cases were linked to bars in Lan Kwai Fong and Tsim Sha Tsui, and included music band members, bartenders and customers.
So far, about 24 patients, including customers, were traced to four bars and nine bands performing at those bars in Lan Kwai Fong and Tsim Sha Tsui, which are operated by a pub management company and have over 120 members. The 24 people will be sent to quarantine centers.
There is also a 46-year-old man who has no clear source of infection.
The head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, Chuang Shuk-kwan, told a press briefing that the virus is definitely being locally transmitted in Hong Kong.
She warned that other entertainment venues and restaurants, not just bars, are places with a high risk of cross-infection. Authorities are closely monitoring the situation to see whether a major community outbreak is occurring.
Shadow Li and Gu Mengyan contributed to this story.
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