Hong Kong tighten restrictions after a fresh spike in Covid-19 cases

The number of people allowed to be sitting at a table in a restaurant will be capped at eight. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - The city's government has tightened social distancing measures as clusters continue to emerge leading health experts to warn of the next wave of Covid-19.

At the daily briefing on Thursday (July 9), Secretary for Food and Health Bureau Sophia Chan said there had been an additional 42 confirmed cases, of which 34 were the result of local transmissions.

Of the local cases, 23 were linked to an elderly care centre, Kong Tai Care for the Aged Centre, in Tsz Wan Shan and the rest were connected to taxi drivers and eateries.

Authorities could not trace the source of two local infections.

The additional cases bring the total confirmed tally of patients to 1,365, including seven deaths.

Given the community spread, Prof Chan said that for 14 days from Saturday the operating capacity of all eateries will be capped at 60 per cent, down from 100 per cent now. No more than eight patrons will be allowed at one table while, in bars and pubs, that number will be capped at four. Small eateries must put up partitions on tables for patrons.

The maximum number allowed at venues where people can remove their face masks such as karaoke lounge rooms, party rooms and gyms has also been halved from 16 to eight, while cinemas will again not serve food and drinks. Nightclubs can only run at 60 per cent capacity, with the maximum number of customers per table halved from eight to four.

From Friday (July 10), geriatric and psychiatric services at public hospitals will be suspended.

"Now is the time for us to suppress and the focus of this suppression is really on mask-off activities. We understand from the recent clusters and also the confirmed cases that a number of them are from the catering business (cha chan tengs)," Prof Chan said, adding that authorities are stepping up on checks in these areas.

Prof Chan said the government will step up on voluntary testing of staff at nursing homes and eateries, as well as public transport drivers.

She said that besides expanding the areas to be tested, the government has also been ramping up testing capacity.

Over March and April, the government conducted over 66,000 tests and this rose to 75,000 in May and more than 100,000 in June.

The announcement on the tightening of measures came hours after an infectious disease expert from the University of Hong Kong Ho Pak Leung called on the government to act promptly as the Covid-19 situation appeared to be returning to what it was in March, the height of the second wave of infections.

He was quoted by RTHK as saying that there was a good chance the recent spike was caused by loopholes in the system like quarantine exemptions for some groups.

He urged people to order takeaways instead of dining out and to disinfect seatbelts and buckles when getting into a taxi and to lower the windows of the vehicle on both sides to allow air to circulate.

The latest cases are in addition to the 24 confirmed on Wednesday (July 8), of which 19 were local. The rest were imported.

Health officials then expressed fears of a wide community outbreak after cases emerged in different areas of the city, including on Hong Kong island, Mong Kok and Tsuen Wan.

About half of the new local cases reported on Wednesday were linked to the elderly care home in Tsz Wan Shan. The remaining ones were linked to restaurants in Choi Hung and Jordan.

The spike in cases comes after three weeks when the numbers were tapering off.

Meanwhile, United Airlines has extended its suspension of flights to and from Hong Kong in the light of new testing protocols for crew arriving in the Asian financial hub.

American Airlines Group also cancelled plans to resume services from Dallas/Fort Worth.

Hong Kong updated its Covid-19 prevention and control measures this week, requiring all air crew members arriving at the city's airport from Wednesday to provide throat saliva samples at a government facility nearby.

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