July 14, 2020 / 1:32 AM / 20 days ago

Hong Kong to impose most severe social distancing restrictions

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong will impose strict new social distancing measures from midnight Tuesday, the most stringent in the Asian financial hub since the coronavirus broke out, as authorities warn the risk of a large-scale outbreak is extremely high.

Passengers wear surgical masks in an MTR train, following the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Hong Kong, China July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The Chinese-ruled city recorded 48 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, including 40 that were locally transmitted, health authorities said. Since late January, Hong Kong has reported over 1,500 cases and eight deaths. [P8N2EJ00R]

“Half of the reported cases today have unknown sources. It is very worrying because the cases can spread easily in the community,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, a senior health official.

The new social distancing measures make face masks mandatory for people using public transport and restaurants will no longer provide dine-in services and only offer takeaway after 6 pm.

Both are new rules that were not implemented during the city’s first and second coronavirus waves earlier this year. If a person does not wear a mask on public transport, they face a fine of HK$5,000 (515 pounds).

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Monday the government would limit group gatherings to four people from 50 - a measure last seen during a second wave in March.

Twelve types of establishments including gyms and places of amusement must shut for a week.

The government said it is very concerned about the high number of imported cases and planned to impose further measures on travellers from high-risk places, including securing mandatory negative test results before arrival.

Lam said the measures were the result of a three-way tug of war between considerations related to public health, economic impact and social acceptability and that the city may need to co-exist with the virus for a period of time.

Ahead of new measures, some supermarkets imposed restrictions on items including rice, face masks and toilet paper, local media reported. Panic stricken residents had emptied shelves in major supermarkets across the city in February as fears escalated over the coronavirus.

More than 13.02 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 569,336​ have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

Reporting by Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore

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