By Mar Sánchez Cascado
Hong Kong, Nov 30 (efe-epa).- Hong Kong – the city worst affected by the 2002 SARS coronavirus epidemic – has been hit by the fourth Covid-19 wave, which appears more serious than earlier outbreaks and has led the city to close all schools until next year apart from imposing other measures.
The local government on Monday expressed concern over the recent spike in cases – with 76 fresh infections reported within the last 24 hours and 115 on Sunday – partly owing to a group of super-spreaders who had visited dance clubs.
The authorities have decided to limit public gatherings to two people and shut down gaming arcades and swimming pools.
Similarly, restaurants have to limit seating to two diners per table, while gyms and other sports facilities have been allowed to remain open.
The latest measures will remain in force for two weeks and are similar to the restrictions imposed in July, when the city faced an outbreak that led to more than 700 cases being registered within two weeks.
Last week the government had already closed night establishments of leisures such as pubs, karaoke bars and casinos in an attempt to check the spread of the coronavirus.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a press conference Monday that the health authorities had adopted a “flexible” approach by imposing and lifting restrictions according to expert advice.
She warned that the latest wave was definitely serious as “many of those who tested positive in recent weeks have been in contact with many people.”
Nicholas Thomas, a professor of health security at the City University of Hong Kong, told EFE that although the city had witnessed the SARS epidemic in 2002, the coronavirus pandemic was much more difficult to control.
“There are more symptomatic cases with Covd-19 than there were with SARS, so it is far harder to identify infections chains,” said Thomas, calling the virus “unpredictable and volatile.’
The expert said that Hong Kong was on the right path with the fresh measures, but warned that earlier people and authorities had lowered their guard too soon, leading to more infection waves.
‘What we need is for people to accept quite strict conditions for an extended length of time. (…) It would be difficult to enforce but when you consider that Covid has been with us for nearly a year, locking down for a month is relatively short,” Thomas said.
Meanwhile Lam announced the launch of a new hotline which allows callers to lodge complaints against people who violate social distancing norms .
“The government has all sorts of hotlines for members of the public to bear their civic responsibility. (…) I hope people will not overreact. This is jointly shouldering the responsibility, as we are facing a very serious pandemic situation,” the leader said.
Lam announced that in order to further dissuade violators, fines for violating Covid norms – such as not wearing masks or exceeding the pubic gathering limit – would be raised to HK$ 2,000 ($258).
On Sunday, Hong Kong had announced the closure of schools from Wednesday until after the Christmas holidays after registering the highest number of single-day infections since August.
Last week Health Secretary Sophia Chan had declared a possible fourth wave citing deteriorating conditions.
City authorities have now asked groups that work in public jobs, such as taxi drivers and housing employees, to undergo a mandatory nucleic acid test for the virus.
A special health center has been reopened at the AsiaWorld-Expo convention center to ease pressure on public hospitals amid an increasing demand for beds.