Hong Kong should brace itself for more stringent social-distancing rules if the third wave of coronavirus infections gets worse, the city’s deputy leader warned on Sunday.
Among the measures could be restrictions on business hours and residents’ movements, but a full lockdown with stay-at-home orders was not on the table, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said on his official blog.
The city is battling a resurgence of the pandemic, with daily tallies setting records this past week and 128 new cases emerging on Sunday, taking the total number of infections to 2,633, with 18 related deaths.
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“This wave of the epidemic has been the most severe in half a year,” Cheung said. “The next two weeks will be very crucial. We must do our best to prevent the virus from spreading further in the community.”
“In addition to the necessary measures that are being taken by the government, residents’ self-discipline and cooperation is also very important,” Cheung said. “I earnestly urge people to stay at home as much as is practicable, reduce social contact and avoid dining out.”
The central government was carefully following the situation in the city and had supported efforts to contain the spread of the disease, he said.
“[The central government] has also responded actively to the request by the chief executive and will offer help in the work of expanding Hong Kong’s testing capacity and the work of converting AsiaWorld-Expo into ‘mobile cabin hospital’.”
Sunday was the fifth consecutive day there had been more than 100 new cases, and health officials have expressed concerns over whether the situation could be brought under control.
But speaking on television on Sunday, Executive Council member Dr Lam Ching-choi said the situation could ease within two to three weeks with only “minor adjustments” to existing measures, such as extending the dine-in ban, presently in force from 6pm to 5am, to all day.
“The government has made it clear it will not be taking extreme measures such as a lockdown,” Lam said. “The strategy has always been to take targeted measures and make small adjustments.”
While he did not elaborate further on what regulations the government would implement, Lam said residents and businesses should cooperate by doing their part.
Lam urged supermarkets and wet market stalls to ensure all shoppers wore masks, sanitised their hands and had their temperatures checked.
“If we want to avoid a lockdown, we will need all of Hong Kong’s residents and businesses to cooperate,” he said.
While the government has made wearing a mask compulsory in indoor public spaces, including shopping centres, it has yet to extend the rule to outdoor spaces.
Cheung also called on people to keep their masks on while out in the countryside, or in less crowded areas, as well as to stop visiting public beaches, which have been closed.
Meanwhile, as the city’s isolation facilities in public hospitals start to reach maximum capacity, Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun said on Sunday his bureau was preparing to start building an additional 2,000 isolation units at Penny’s Bay.
The Lantau Island site already has 800 units ready for use, with another 700 units expected to be ready by September.