Hong Kong announced tighter social distancing measures over the weekend following a two-day rise to double-digit daily infections last week. Compulsory testing for at-risk groups will also be rolled out, with those who refuse facing prison time.
Saturday’s new restrictions set the maximum number of people seated together at restaurants to four, while a maximum of two people may be seated together in bars and pubs. Dine-in services are to cease operations at midnight.
The measures also target arrangements at hotels, placing a four-person limit on the number of people allowed to stay in one guest room. Exceptions are made for those who are from the same household. The four-person public gathering limit also remains in place.
The tighter regulations will come into force for eleven days from Monday.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan on Saturday said the new measures were designed to target “mask-off gathering activities,” including so-called hotel “staycations”. A cluster of infections earlier this month were linked to a hotel in Mui Wo.
Tightened visiting arrangements
Visiting arrangements for those serving mandatory 14-day quarantine periods after travel from abroad will also be tightened “with a view to stopping the transmission of virus by imported cases in the community,” the secretary said.
Members of the public will not be allowed to visit individuals serving mandatory 14-day quarantine in hotels from Wednesday. Food and other packages may be delivered but without any face-to-face contact. Those in breach of these restrictions face a maximum of six months imprisonment and a HK$25,000 fine.
The government appealed to those serving mandatory quarantine to heed the restrictions, saying in a statement on Saturday that it was of the “utmost importance” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Chan called on the public to stay vigilant against the pandemic: “With the relaxation of social distancing measures, members of the public appeared to become less alert in combating the epidemic.”
“The fourth wave of outbreak could be triggered at any moment,” she warned, referring to the worsening global pandemic situation and a recent rise in local infections with untraceable sources.
The city has also confirmed that compulsory Covid-19 testing for high-risk groups will be carried out with penalties of up to HK$25,000 and six months prison for those who refuse. A full list of groups who may need to undergo mandatory testing will be published soon, and will include those in quarantine, those linked to outbreaks and staff in high-risk jobs.
Hong Kong reported 23 cases last Thursday, the highest daily total since late September. The city reported 14 cases on Sunday, bringing the total to 5,459, with 108 deaths.