A customer wearing a protective face mask carries bags of take-away food from a restaurant in Hong Kong, July 24. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)
Hong Kong will ban all dine-in services at restaurants and public gatherings of more than two people not from the same family starting Wednesday, as the city’s worst coronavirus outbreak shows no sign of abating.
Sports venues and swimming pools are also being shut, adding to a list of closed businesses that included gyms, bars and beauty parlors. The new restrictions are for an initial period of one week before they’ll be reviewed
In a third round of rule-tightening in as many weeks, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said Monday that masks will also now be required in outdoors areas, with only medical exemptions.
Cheung appealed to employers to adopt the work-from-home arrangement to reduce the risks of local transmissions.
Sports venues and swimming pools are also being shut, adding to a list of closed businesses that included gyms, bars and beauty parlors. The new restrictions are for an initial period of one week before they’ll be reviewed.
The Asian financial center has been taken off-guard by the sudden jump of infections after managing to contain the spread locally as it tore across the world. Officials are now scrambling to slow what they’re calling a third wave, while boosting health-care facilities that are reaching capacity.
On Monday, Hong Kong reported 145 cases, 142 of them locally transmitted, the sixth consecutive day that new infections were above a hundred. Before this month, the reported number of daily locally transmitted infections had never topped 28.
Out of the 142 local infections, 83 are related to previously confirmed cases, while the sources of infection of the other 59 cases remain unknown, Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection's Communicable Disease Branch said at a media briefing on Monday afternoon.
According to Hong Kong's Hospital Authority, as of Monday noon, 1,486 patients with confirmed infections had been discharged from hospitals after recovery, while 1,016 confirmed patients are currently hospitalized, including 39 in critical condition and 27 in serious condition. Two new deaths from COVID-19 were reported on Monday, bringing the death toll to 20.
The city confirmed 1,030 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases between July 13 and July 26. Of these cases, 492 were untraceable.
Cheung said there’s an urgent need to toughen social gathering rules.
However, he said the government will not impose a curfew-like lockdown barring residents from leaving their homes because many people have to go out for basic necessities and such a ban would severely hurt economic activities.
A woman wearing a face mask and face shield shops for instant cup noodles at a supermarket in Tseung Kwan O, Hong Kong, July 27, 2020. (CALVIN NG / CHINA DAILY)
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said the previously introduced free virus testing scheme for high-risk communities will be expanded to cover wet market workers, public minibus drivers, dormitory staff at special schools and residents in Tsz Wan Shan, the hardest-hit district in the latest outbreak.
Authorities had previously banned dining-in after 6 pm and expanded mask-wearing requirements, from public transportation to indoor public venues.
Although the government is trying to boost testing and expand quarantine and hospitalization facilities, the long stretch that saw the city seemingly dodge the COVID-19 bullet has left its defenses low.
Isolation beds and wards in public hospitals have reached 80 percent capacity, while its total testing capacity is smaller than other places in the region that are also facing resurgences, like Australia’s Victoria state.
Unlike in some places where it’s mostly young people who are recently becoming infected, Hong Kong’s current surge is affecting an older group of people, raising the likelihood of more cases turning critical.
With inputs from agencies
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