Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced that civil servants will once again work remotely amid a “critical” spike in coronavirus cases.

Meeting the press alongside her ministers on Saturday, Lam also said that the exams for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education will be postponed and oral exams cancelled. The key tests, which are a reference for university enrollment, will be pushed back to April 24 and schools will remain closed until further notice.

Among other measures announced, virus testing for arrivals to Hong Kong will be stepped up and only essential government services will be in operation as of Monday. Libraries, museums and leisure facilities will close, after they reopened at the start of March, as Lam urged private sector employers to roll out work-from-home arrangements.

Renewed measures

On Saturday, Hong Kong reported 17 new cases, ten of whom had travelled to countries such as Canada, the US, Peru and Singapore. Twenty other people have tested positive, including a 20-month old child.

“There is a chance of a major and prolonged outbreak in the community,” Lam said. “There are a large number of infected persons who require treatment that may cause the collapse of our healthcare system.”

The government will give two face masks per day to seniors at elderly homes, and spot checks on those in self-quarantine will be stepped up. Those who violate quarantine measures will face tougher consequences, including three people who broke home quarantine orders – each will be prosecuted.

“The situation is dire… we must not let down our guard,” Lam said, as she urged the public to have more vigilance and avoid high-risk venues such as cinemas, bars and restaurants.

Health authorities reported a record 48 new local cases on Friday, almost double the day before. Thirty-six of them had travelled abroad recently. There are now 273 confirmed cases in Hong Kong and four fatalities.

Hong Kong residents prepare to leave Hubei province. Photo: GovHK.

First detected in Hubei, China, more than 275,000 people globally have been infected with Covid-19, whilst over 11,400 have died from the SARS-like disease. China confirmed no new local cases on Saturday, but it reported the highest yet increase in infections brought in from overseas.

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Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.