Hong Kong is on the verge of a “large-scale” outbreak that could overwhelm hospitals, its leader warned Wednesday, as authorities implemented their toughest social distancing measures yet.
From Wednesday all residents in the densely packed city of 7.5 million must wear masks when they leave their homes while restaurants can only serve take-out meals.
No more than two people from different households can gather in public with fines of up to $HK5,000 ($625) for those who breach the new emergency rules. The latest measures are a bid to stifle a sudden spike in coronavirus cases that have upended the city’s otherwise enviable battle against the deadly disease. More than 1,000 infections have been confirmed since early July — more than 40 percent of the total since the virus first hit the city in late January.
New daily infections have been above 100 for the last six days. Hong Kong was one of the first places hit by the coronavirus when it emerged from China at the start of the year.
It initially had remarkable success in controlling the outbreak — helped in part by a health-conscious public embracing face masks and an efficient track and trace programme, forged in the fires of the deadly SARS virus in 2003. By June local transmission had all but ended.
But the virus later snuck back into the city and began spreading.