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Hong Kong mulls total lockdown amid sharp rise in new virus cases

Residents wear surgical masks while crossing the road in order to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020 in Hong Kong. (Geovien So/SOPA Images/Zuma Press/TNS)
July 23, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Authorities in Hong Kong were considering further restrictions on Monday after a fresh outbreak of coronavirus in the city, where Beijing has also imposed a draconian national security crackdown targeting protesters and opposition figures.

The city’s health authorities recorded a further 66 locally transmitted cases on Monday, with at least 24 from an “unknown source,” the government reported.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) reported the total number of new cases on Monday at 73, including seven people who arrived in Hong Kong from elsewhere, bringing the number of cases reported in the city so far to 1,958.

Meanwhile, clinics were feeling the strain amid a massive surge in public demand for coronavirus testing.

CHP spokeswoman Chuang Shuk-kwan said the authorities were mulling new lockdown measures following a warning from a top microbiologist in the city, Yuen Kwok-yung.

Yuen told local media that lockdown would be necessary given the rate at which new cases are emerging now.

“Cases are still rising … exponentially, so there is no other way; people have to be prevented from leaving their homes,” Yuen said.

“The government strongly urges the public to stay at home as much as possible, go out less often unless necessary, and avoid dining out and unnecessary social activities (including private gatherings),” the government said in a statement on its website on Monday.

“The recent emergence of local cases of unknown infection source indicates the existence of sustained silent transmission in the community,” it said, adding that the city was now at the highest level of public health risk since the start of the pandemic.

Catering businesses have already been ordered to function at no more than 50 percent capacity, with no food service allowed in the evenings to customers on the premises.

Pubs, bars, live music, dancing, karaoke, and mahjong parlors have been shut down, along with amusement arcades, gyms, beauty parlors, and any place of “public entertainment.”

Large group gatherings are banned, and masks required on public transportation, although the wearing of masks has been widespread among the city’s seven million residents since January.

‘Doing the right thing’

David Hui, professor of respiratory medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), said the government was doing the right thing.

“The current measures are pretty strict, and we really need people to cooperate,” he said. “Just because you’re working from home, doesn’t mean that you should then be going out to eat, or hanging out with groups of people in indoor spaces.”

“Food outlets should be reserved for those people who have to go out to work,” Hui said. “The next step will be, if we are still seeing lines outside of food outlets and a constant stream of people going out, a total lockdown order.”

Linda Yu, chief administrative manager of the Hospital Authority, said isolation wards are already under pressure at Hong Kong hospitals.

“There is a certain pressure on the number of beds in isolation wards, and everyone is worried, now that cases are rising, that there will be a shortage of isolation beds in a week or so,” Yu told reporters.

“That’s why we are going to start the [temporary isolation facility] at Lei Yue Mun.”