Hong Kong May Consider Unprecedented Virus Curbs, Including Curfews

Unprecedented virus control measures including curfews and shutdowns of non-essential businesses may be considered in Hong Kong, according to a government health adviser, as the city continues to see a high number of locally-transmitted cases and the holiday season looms.

Limiting the number of people per household allowed to shop for groceries, shuttering all businesses deemed non-essential and shortening mall operating hours are among the curbs that may have to be imposed to prevent another Covid-19 wave, David Hui, a respiratory disease expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who advises the government on the virus response, told TVB on Sunday, according to various local media reports.

While he isn’t a lawmaker, Hui’s comments raise the prospect Hong Kong could be on the cusp of its toughest virus restrictions yet. Local authorities have sought to avoid stay-at-home orders and lockdowns since the pandemic began, citing economic considerations. Hong Kong’s dense housing situation, with thousands living in subdivided units without private bathrooms or that combine toilets, kitchens and sleeping spaces, has been another factor in the government’s decision-making.

There were 109 new infections in Hong Kong on Saturday, the most since Dec. 10, with 102 transmitted in the community. Worryingly, 42 of those were from unknown sources. Though small compared with the unbridled outbreaks in the U.S. and Europe, Hong Kong’s flareup has already seen schools shuttered for the third time this year. New cases eased to 85 on Monday, with 27 of unknown origin.

Hong Kong banned all flights arriving from the U.K. on Monday, as a new, potentially more contagious strain of the virus spurred Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to impose an emergency lockdown on London. Those entering Hong Kong before Dec. 22 will be required to undergo an additional seven days of home quarantine. The city’s current social-distancing measures will remain in effect until Jan. 6, said Secretary for Food and Health Sophie Chan.

Hui, the government health adviser, did rule out bringing in mandatory mass testing at the weekend, saying in the TVB interview that for that to be effective Hong Kong would need to simultaneously lock down for up to four weeks. Flights into and out of the city would also need to be suspended, he said.

The spike in cases, which had dwindled to single digits in November, has seen a gradual -- and at times haphazard -- ramping up of restrictions in Hong Kong. Since the start of December, public gatherings have been limited to two people and civil servants were ordered to work from home. The measures are similar to those in place in July, when the city battled its worst outbreak. The current resurgence has delayed a planned air travel bubble with Singapore, and also led to a tightening of the financial hub’s quarantine policy for those arriving from overseas.

Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection urged the public at Sunday’s daily coronavirus briefing to avoid large gatherings ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays, saying residents must remain vigilant as the virus is transmittable even before symptoms appear.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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