Hong Kong Shuts Down Schools Again as Virus Cases Surge

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Hong Kong reported 32 additional local coronavirus cases on Friday, adding to a resurgence of infections that is forcing the financial hub to reinstate restrictions that had been recently loosened, including the closing of schools.

The new cases come after the city recorded 34 locally transmitted infections on Thursday, the most in a single day since the pandemic began. The outbreak in Hong Kong, while small relative to those in the U.S. and elsewhere, follows weeks of normalized activity as people returned to work and restaurants filled up again. Hong Kong started reopening schools in late May after four months of at-home classes.

All schools will now break for summer holiday starting Monday, Hong Kong Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said in a briefing earlier Friday. Stocks slid on the news, with the benchmark Hang Seng Index dropping 1.8%, while the Hang Seng China Enterprises gauge slipped 2.2%, its biggest drop since May 22.

The new infections have also pushed Hong Kong to tighten social restrictions again, with the government announcing Thursday it will cap restaurant capacity at 60% starting this weekend. There will be a limit of eight people per table, while bars will be restricted to four per table.

Hong Kong has suppressed two waves of infection in February and April and its total outbreak numbers only 1,403 cases. But this week’s jump in infections is raising alarm, as cases that can’t be traced suggest that hidden chains of transmission have been circulating in the city for some time.

Other cities in the region that have seen previous success in containing the virus are also experiencing new waves of infections. Flareups in Melbourne, Beijing and Tokyo -- which reported a record day of new cases Friday -- are a reminder that the pandemic is far from over. Without an effective and widely distributed vaccine, cities are likely to continue in a state of limbo where the easing of social distancing measures or lax implementation will lead to a spike in infections.

Schools have been a particular concern among Hong Kong residents. Parents have worried about their children’s health and safety after multiple confirmed cases emerged in different schools on the same day. The government came under criticism from some parents for not shutting down classes sooner, and some schools already decided to close before Friday’s announcement.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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