Hong Kong Returns to Tightest Virus Restrictions as Cases Spike

Hong Kong is implementing some of its strictest social distancing measures since the pandemic began, cutting off in-person dining at restaurants from 6 p.m. and closing gyms and beauty salons, amid a growing surge in cases.

“We have no choice,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said as she announced the dining restrictions at a weekly press briefing Tuesday. She did not say when the new restrictions would take effect. “We all need to be mentally prepared about more measures to be rolled out.”

The Asian financial hub is struggling to contain its latest wave of Covid-19 infections, with case numbers often exceeding 100 a day last week — the most since August. That’s prompted the government to gradually raise its social distancing measures, recently raising fines for those breaching restrictions and sending civil servants back to working from home.

The new wave of virus cases has already shuttered local schools and delayed a Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble, a blow to efforts to re-open a city whose economy has been rocked by protests and the pandemic. Activists, meanwhile, have worried that authorities are using virus-related restrictions to curb their ability to gather for demonstrations.

‘Stay at Home’

In-person dining restrictions hit hard in a city with some of the world’s tiniest apartments, many of which have small or not fully-equipped kitchens.

But Lam said the city needed to act. Public transport network data revealed that this current round of social distancing restrictions had not led to a significant drop off in residents traveling around the city compared with previous rounds of tightening, she said.

Hong Kong is also moving to close what Lam called “loopholes” in the arrivals process at the city’s international airport. In addition to measures already in place, she said visitors will now have to take designated transport to specially-picked hotels for a 14-day quarantine, and will also need to take an additional virus test on the 19th day after their arrival.

Lam urged employers to allow work from home arrangements, and said the flow of people on the streets needed to be reduced.

“Unless it is necessary, please stay at home, work from home,” she said.

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