The Hong Kong government has not ruled out restricting social gatherings in private homes to curb further coronavirus infections before Lunar New Year, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan warned on Tuesday.
The curbs may be implemented if the public ignores pleas to avoid gatherings involving separate households.
“We call on people to avoid gatherings across different households as much as possible,” Chan said on an RTHK programme. “The more families get together, the higher the chance of… infection.”
She however conceded that any attempt to regulate private homes may be perceived as “too draconian,” saying that authorities will “continue to monitor the situation.”
The government has not confirmed whether public fairs for the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays starting on February 12 will be held this year. The secretary on Tuesday urged the public to stay away from all public gatherings.
“If we can work together to cope with the pandemic, we are optimistic that the situation will improve by Lunar New Year,” Chan added.
The government has extended the two-person limit on social gatherings until January 20, as the city combats its fourth wave of infections. Bars and a variety of other premises remain shut while restaurants must close at 6 pm and seat only two per table.
UK travel ban
Separately, Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the government’s complete ban on travel from the UK.
“The UK and South Africa are two of the high risk places because of this [Covid-19] variant,” Lam told reporters on Tuesday. “If we did nothing, it would be putting our city at great risk,” she said, adding it was a “very difficult” decision as it involved Hong Kong residents.
Lam added that the government would work with major airlines and “together review the situation.”
The government has banned all commercial flights from the UK until at least January 10 after the emergence of a mutation of the coronavirus which was 70 per cent more infectious. It was first identified in the UK.
The Immigration Department has received around 190 requests for assistance from Hong Kong residents stranded in the UK.
The travel ban has however been lambasted by some critics as draconian and illogical. Shareholder activist David Webb said the government’s pandemic measures were flawed.
“The UK variant… has been around since September and already arrived in >33 other countries,” Webb tweeted on Tuesday. “If this strain is as dominant as suspected then why not block travel from all such countries?”
He added that the government’s focus on flights “deflects from the lax land border,” referring to the lighter measures implemented on the border between mainland China and Hong Kong.
The Basic Law guarantees that all Hong Kong citizens should enjoy the freedom to enter or leave the region.
Hong Kong has identified a total of 15 cases of the UK mutation and two cases of the South African mutation, the Centre for Health Protection confirmed on Tuesday.
Overall, the city reported 32 new infections on Tuesday. Only one infection was imported while nine of the local infections were from an untraceable source. The city has seen a total of 9,050 cases and 153 deaths.