Hong Kong is to extend its coronavirus social distancing measures – including a ban on public gatherings of more than eight people – to June 4, following the emergence of three local infections. However, religious gatherings will be allowed to resume at up to 50 per cent capacity.
The extended period covers the annual Tiananmen Square Massacre vigil in Victoria Park, an event which attracts hundreds of thousands of people who mourn the bloody 1989 crackdown in Beijing.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said on Tuesday that catering businesses, entertainment facilities and fitness centres must continue to adhere to anti-epidemic restrictions, such as a minimum 1.5-metre distancing rule.
“As seen from the recent local confirmed cases, the transmission chain in the community has not been completely broken off yet,” she said, adding that authorities have adopted a “suppress and lift” strategy which adjusts the intensity of epidemic control measures according to the latest developments.
Bathhouses, party rooms, karaoke establishments and nightclubs are to remain closed until May 28.
The move came after the city recorded three new locally-transmitted infections within the same family last Wednesday, after 23 consecutive days with only imported cases.
Health authorities also said the government plans to up its daily testing capacity from 4,500 to 7,000 through two universities and public health laboratories, as well as private clinics.
Chan rejected suggestions that the gathering ban was drawn out to interfere with the June 4 vigil, saying the decision was made in accordance with a 14-day extension policy. The current set of social distancing measures were set to expire on Thursday.
“There are no other considerations in terms of the social distancing measures,” she said, adding that authorities will continue to assess the public health risks.
Secretary for Home Affairs Casper Tsui said there have been examples overseas of authorities successfully balancing epidemic control measures with relaxed restrictions on religious activities.
He said “collective effort” between governments and religious groups has led to lower risks of infection.
“Most of the religious leaders are very forthcoming in suggesting [and] implementing tightened measures than what we have suggested. We are all in this fight together.”
Hong Kong has reported 1,055 infections and four deaths since January. First detected in Wuhan, China, Covid-19 has infected more than 4.8 million people and led to more than 318,000 deaths worldwide, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.