After early success against COVID-19, Hong Kong now seems to be struggling
Strict new measures to curb COVID-19 spread in Hong Kong take effect on Wednesday as leader Carrie Lam warned that the city is on the brink of a large-scale outbreak of the coronavirus and urged people to stay indoors as much as possible.
Hong Kong is introducing some of its toughest measures yet to curb the coronavirus spread as leader Carrie Lam has warned that the city is on the brink of a large-scale virus outbreak and urged people to stay indoors as much as possible. The new restrictions take effect on Wednesday.
Hong Kong, which had seen early success against COVID-19, is now regularly reporting over 100 new daily cases. The global financial hub saw a spike in locally transmitted cases over the past three weeks. The new surge came after the city appeared to be almost cornonavirus free, relaxing restrictions and beginning discussion of potential "travel bubbles" with other post-pandemic parts of the world.
The new regulations ban gatherings of more than two people, close dining in restaurants and make the wearing of face masks mandatory in public places, including outdoors. These are the toughest measures introduced in the city since the outbreak.
Restrictions have been progressively tightened again this month with bars, gyms and beauty parlours already closed.
The government has also tightened testing and quarantine arrangements for sea and air crew members, effective on Wednesday.
HONG KONG 'ON VERGE' OF LARGE-SCALE COVID-19 OUTBREAK
"We are on the verge of a large-scale community outbreak, which may lead to a collapse of our hospital system and cost lives, especially of the elderly," Carrie Lam said in a statement late on Tuesday.
"In order to protect our loved ones, our healthcare staff and Hong Kong, I appeal to you to follow strictly the social distancing measures and stay at home as far as possible." The new measures, which will be in place for at least seven days, were announced on Monday.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong reported 106 new coronavirus cases, including 98 that were locally transmitted. Since late January, more than 2,880 people have been infected in the former British colony, 23 of whom have died.
Health officials have warned "there was no room for complacency", while scientists fear a strain of COVID-19 circulating locally has the potential to do greater damage, according to South China Morning Post.
Local scientists revealed they had found that one COVID-19 strain circulating in the city had not mutated for at least 22 days, potentially posing greater risks to people as the virus may have adapted well to the body and become more transmissible. Health officials said more time would be needed to see whether the crisis had reached a peak.
“There is no place for complacency at the moment. We still have to observe the trend,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection. “We have not seen an exponential growth (in infections) yet, but the figures are still worrying.”
WHAT LED TO SURGE IN COVID-19 INFECTIONS?
Ben Cowling, a professor at Hong Kong University's school of public health, said this week that "we may never know" how the latest wave of cases in the city began, but data points to infections being imported from overseas.
According to Hong Kong deputy leader Matthew Cheung, the epidemic situation "is critical and the next few weeks are extremely crucial for the city".
"We are facing a high risk of community outbreak," he said.
Officials in the city have been facing criticism for their handling of the latest wave, particularly over the large number of quarantine exemptions given to business travellers and airline crew, which some blamed for reintroducing the virus to the city. However, the government has defended the policy as necessary for the economy, and health authorities have not yet been able to track where the latest infections originated.