Hong Kong health experts called for even tougher action, including making it mandatory to wear masks in public, to rein in the COVID-19 pandemic, as the city’s case tally exceeded 900 on Monday.
Ho Pak-leung, the top microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, urged the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government to introduce emergency laws to make mask-wearing compulsory in all public places.
“There have been regulations in place for mask-wearing in eateries except when diners are eating. The rules should be extended to cover other public places,” Ho told a local radio program.
Monday’s coronavirus cases involved a 48-year-old supermarket salesman whose wife was earlier confirmed to be infected. The man went to a karaoke lounge in Causeway Bay with at least five of his colleagues, and they had meals together in late March.
They did not wear masks during the party. One of the man’s colleagues initially tested positive for the virus. Previously, a group of seven patrons were confirmed to have caught the virus after visiting a karaoke lounge in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Karaoke lounges, along with some other leisure venues, were ordered to close on Wednesday. Ho also suggested shutting down restaurants or limiting them to serving takeout meals only.
This echoed Executive Council’s convener Bernard Charnwut Chan’s remarks on Sunday that stricter precautions might be considered to confine residents to their homes. He did not rule out the possibility of closing all nonessential businesses and all dining-in services at restaurants.
Ho also called for tougher law enforcement of social distancing to prevent asymptomatic patients from spreading the disease. He explained that introducing even tougher measures would end the outbreak quicker.
It was reported on Monday that six people were fined HK$2,000 (US$258) each for breaching the new regulation that bans public gatherings of more than four people. This is Hong Kong’s first prosecution under the new regulation since it took effect on March 29.
The group, aged 52 to 68, were two chess players and four observers. Police said they refused to disperse after being spotted by officers on Sunday afternoon.
The city reported 24 new COVID-19 cases on Monday — the second lowest since March 22 — bringing the city’s total number to 914.
Although the rate of daily infections has recently subsided, respiratory disease expert David Hui Shu-cheong with the Chinese University of Hong Kong said more stringent measures are needed if double-digit daily increases continue.
Speaking to local media, Hui advised health authorities to closely monitor outbreak trends if another wave of imported cases occur.
Eighteen of the new patients on Monday had a recent travel history, including five people who returned from Peru on Sunday afternoon.
The five patients tested positive for the virus after being sent to the test center at AsiaWorld-Expo upon their arrival. They were among the 65 Hong Kong residents stranded in Peru after a countrywide lockdown was imposed in mid-March there.
Three out of the five were from the same tour group of 21 people; the rest of them have been sent to government quarantine facilities. Other evacuees were not considered close contacts and were given the mandatory 14 days of quarantine at home.
Other new local cases involve two bar employees and three close contacts of previous patients also related to bars. These include two young brothers — one a 3-year-old and the other an 8-year-old — whose mother worked at All Night Long, a bar in Tsim Sha Tsui. This bar has been linked to most of the local cases confirmed on Monday.
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