Hong Kong is to introduce tighter gathering restrictions and will make face masks compulsory on public transport following a fresh outbreak of local coronavirus infections.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Monday that group gatherings will be restricted to four people once again.

Regulations for local eateries will also be tightened. From 6pm-5am, dining in will not be allowed – only takeout will be available. For dine-in, only four people will be allowed at each table.

Twelve types of businesses will be closed, as they were in March, such as games centres, bars, cinemas, spas, gyms, karaoke venues and massage parlours.

For travellers who have been to areas of high infection, arrivals to Hong Kong will have to show a certificate to prove they do not have the coronavirus before they are allowed to fly.

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Photo: May James/HKFP.

Hongkongers will have to wear masks on all public transport and paid areas of MTR stations, or entry may be refused. Failing to comply with a request to wear a mask may attract a maximum fine of HK$5,000.

And there will be free testing for taxi drivers and people who work in elderly homes, eateries and property management.

“We don’t want to see our earlier efforts go to waste,” Lam said. “[U]ntil there is an effective vaccine that could be applied widely, we may have to coexist with this virus for some time to come.” She added that good judgement was needed and the whole city was needed to pull together to fight the virus.

The measures will be effective from midnight on Wednesday.

Surge in infections, 8th death

Lam’s announcements came shortly after the city confirmed 52 additional cases, 20 of which had unknown origins. The figures marked a single-day high, with Hong Kong recording 1,522 confirmed cases in total.

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File photo: May James/HKFP.

Shortly after the daily press briefing, the city recorded its eighth coronavirus-related death. The case involved a 96-year-old female patient who was confirmed to have Covid-19 on July 9, with links to another local case. She had no symptoms when she was admitted to the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital on July 10, but her condition deteriorated the next day. Her condition continued to worsen until she passed away at around 6.30 pm on Monday.

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, earlier warned that Hong Kong’s contact tracing and isolation strategy may not be enough to close the lid on the outbreak, citing the possibility of asympomatic carriers.

First detected in Hubei province in China, Covid-19 has infected nearly 13 million people worldwide and led to at least 569,128 deaths, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

mask coronavirus covid masks
Photo: May James/HKFP.

Additional reporting: Jennifer Creery.

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.