Hong Kong Extends Social Distancing Measures As Cases Drop

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong is extending social distancing restrictions for another 14 days as a precautionary measure, even as the financial hub sees a drop off in daily new Covid-19 infections.

“This is not the time to let down our guard, or our efforts would go to waste,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said as she announced the move Tuesday before a meeting of the city’s Executive Council. The measures were due to expire Thursday.

Hong Kong -- unlike other similar sized urban centers, including Singapore and New York -- has so far managed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The city reported four new cases Tuesday, all of which had a travel history to the U.S. or the U.K, health department official Chuang Shuk-kwan said at a briefing. Hong Kong’s total number of infections now stands at 1,029, and it hasn’t seen a death from the virus since mid-March.

Lam said the government was trying to strike a balance between ensuring the success of the city’s existing public health measures and making sure its economy didn’t suffer too much damage. She said Hong Kong’s stimulus package, which was announced earlier this month and is worth about HK$137.5 billion ($17.7 billion), gave her the confidence to extend the social distancing restrictions.

“This is indeed a very difficult balancing act,” she said. “On the one side we want to fight the virus and keep our citizens safe. But on the other hand, if the city is dead and people don’t have normal business activities, that’s also very difficult.”

Hong Kong will also remove its 50% cap on restaurant seating capacity starting Friday, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said separately Tuesday. Other restrictions on eateries -- including setting tables at least 1.5 meters apart and having no more than four people seated together at one table -- remain in place until May 7, Chan said.

The Asian financial hub acted quickly in late January and early February with restrictive social distancing measures, including closing schools and government offices.

The city also successfully contained a later second wave of imported cases as residents returned from hotspots abroad through a mix of measures and policies that included mandatory quarantines, contact-tracing, closing bars, gyms and karaoke parlors, and banning gatherings of more than four people.

Lam’s approval rating continued to rise slightly to 18%, two percentage points higher than in the previous survey period ended early April, according to the latest poll from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, released Tuesday afternoon. Satisfaction with the city’s government also rose by four percentage points.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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