Hong Kong is to roll out new social distancing measures this weekend after it announced 65 new infections on Friday – the highest number of new cases yet.

Public gatherings of four or more people – both indoors and outdoors – will be banned from Sunday at midnight, with offenders risking at HK$25,000 fine and six months in prison.

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Carrie Lam. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Exemptions will include those gathering in private, people involved in government, courts, district council or legislative work. It will also not apply to people taking public transport or to those gathered at workplaces.

First detected in Hubei, China, more than 551,000 people globally have been infected with Covid-19, whilst over 24,800 have died from the SARS-like disease.

At Friday’s press conference, Chief Executive Carrie Lam also announced that games centres, party rooms, bathhouses, fitness centres, places of amusement – such as skating rings and bowling alleys – will be forced to close from 6pm on Saturday. Public entertainment venues such as cinemas must also close their doors.

Plans to suspend alcohol licences have been scrapped, but restaurants will be made to enact social distancing measures, ensuring their venues are only filled to 50 per cent capacity. Eateries will have segregate seats, ensuring no more than four people are sat at each table. Meanwhile, staff must wear masks and premises must provide hand rub.

Barbecue sites and campsites in country parks will also close at 6pm on Saturday.

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File photo: GovHK.

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 surged by 65 to 518 infections on Friday amid a fresh community outbreak caused by people returning to the city.

All of the new measures announced on Friday will last for at least two weeks.

Public interest first

When asked by HKFP if she was prioritising business over citizens in failing to enact a full curfew, like other countries, Lam said that the authorities were guided by advice from experts: “It’s not a question of putting which’s sector’s interest above which sector’s interest – we are acting in the overall public interest of Hong Kong,” she said.

When asked whether she had 100 per cent trust in the pandemic data coming out of China, Lam evaded HKFP’s question but made reference to the World Health Organization’s confidence in the figures. https://www.youtube.com/embed/g7Uiss9tg8U

The government said it will launch a second fund to benefit the sectors affected by the new measures. Lam urged companies not to fire staff, as such action might render those firms ineligible for future government subsidies.

Correction 28/3: An early version of this article mistakenly inverted the infection and death rates of covid-19.

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Tom Grundy

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