Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has warned the city is on the brink of a ‘large-scale’ coronavirus outbreak that could overwhelm hospitals, urging people to stay indoors as much as possible because of new measures strict rules to curb the spread of the disease have come into force.
As of Wednesday, all residents of the densely populated city of 7.5 million people are required to wear masks when leaving their homes while restaurants can only serve take-out.
No more than two people from different households can assemble in public with fines of up to HK $ 5,000 ($ 625) for those breaking the new rules, which are the toughest introduced in the city since the start of its epidemic.
The government has also tightened testing and quarantine provisions for flight attendants and flight attendants.
The new rules, which will remain in effect for at least seven days, came after a sudden surge in new infections. More than 1,000 cases have been confirmed since early July – more than 40% of the total since the virus first hit the city in late January.
Daily new cases have surpassed 100 in the past six days.
“We are on the brink of a large-scale community epidemic, which could lead to a collapse of our hospital system and cost the lives, especially of the elderly,” Lam said in a statement.
“In order to protect our loved ones, our caregivers and Hong Kong, I urge you to strictly follow social distancing measures and stay at home as much as possible.
Hong Kong was one of the first places to be hit by the coronavirus after it was detected in mainland China earlier this year. The city initially had remarkable success in controlling the outbreak – aided in part by a health-conscious public adopting face masks and an effective tracking and tracing program, forged in the fires of the deadly virus of the SARS in 2003.
By June, local transmission was virtually complete.
With the virus coming back, health officials scrambled to uncover the source of the outbreak.
Some have blamed exemptions from the usual 14-day quarantine that the government has given to “essential personnel,” including cross-border truck drivers, air and sea crews and some manufacturing executives.
The government has since tightened restrictions on some of these groups and announced plans to build a temporary 2,000-bed field hospital near the airport, which Chinese authorities have offered to help.
Since the end of January, more than 2,880 people have been infected in Hong Kong and 23 have died.