Hong Kong – 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.
In a third round of rule-tightening in as many weeks, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung said Monday that masks will also now be required in outdoors areas, with only medical exemptions.
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 142 local cases, 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.
More than 1,000 infections have been confirmed since early July — more than 40 percent of the total since the virus first hit the city in late January.
The share of infections of unknown origins remains high at about 40 percent of Monday’s total, reflecting that hidden chains of transmission continue to surface despite tightened social distancing rules.
Authorities had previously banned dining-in after 6 p.m. 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.
The ramped-up rules came as authorities revealed China would help officials build an emergency field hospital to help deal with a surge in patients.
Local authorities had previously announced plans to convert a large exhibition center near the city’s airport into a temporary field hospital.
Chueng 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 marvelous speed in mainland China,” Cheung said.
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