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HK extends social distancing rules, saying Covid-19 situation still highly severe

17 August 2020

By The SUN

Govt warns of 'explosive community outbreak' if the virus spread is not contained  

Hong Kong will again extend its social distancing measures for seven days from Wednesday, Aug 19 to next Tuesday, Aug 25, as the government admits the latest novel coronavirus outbreak in the city remains highly severe.

The government today gazetted the extension of the most severe gathering restrictions it has imposed to date under the Prevention and Control of Disease legislation for businesses, group gathering and the wearing of masks in public.

Under the rules, no more than two persons may gather in public; all individuals must wear a mask in public, whether indoor or outdoor, including on all public transportation; and all dine-ins after 6pm will not be allowed in restaurants.
Public amusement places such as games centers, bathhouses, fitness centers, party rooms, beauty parlors, clubs or nightclubs, karaoke establishments, mahjong-tin kau premises, massage parlors, swimming pools and gyms will remain closed.

Likewise, facilities run by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department where large groups gather such as beaches, barbecue pits, hiking trails, sports stadiums and the like will continue to be off-limits.

A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau noted that while the number of new cases daily has dropped from its peak in late July, it remains at a high level with the seven-day average still higher than the peak of the second wave in March to April.


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The spokesman also pointed out that unlike the previous outbreak which largely involved imported cases, the new wave is characterized mainly by community infection spread out across various places and sectors.

“The latest virus strain is observed to have higher transmissibility, and its spread to elderly homes and elderly or chronic disease patients has brought about a rising mortality rate,” said the spokesperson.
 
The high mortality rate among elderly patients is also causing concern
“The occurrence of new and growing clusters in settings such as dormitories for foreign domestic helpers and a workplace for port workers suggests that the risk of an explosive community outbreak and a rebound of the epidemic situation remains considerably high.”

The statement pointed out that up to 40% of the new infections are from unknown sources, suggesting that there are a lot of asymptomatic carriers in the community.

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Another worrying factor is the slow decline of the third wave, despite the most stringent border control and social distancing measures ever imposed since mid-July.  This suggests the third wave of the epidemic, the most severe Hong Kong has experienced, is far from over, the government said. 

The extended measures include restricting the number of diners to no more than 50% of a restaurant’s seating capacity, with a maximum of two people being allowed to sit together at each table. Live performance and dancing as well as karaoke and mahjong-tin kau activities will be suspended.

In addition, patrons of dining establishments must wear a mask at all times, except when eating or drinking. Staff must screen the body temperature of all customers and provide them with hand sanitizer; and keep tables 1.5 meters apart or effectively partitioned.

Catering businesses exempted from the requirements are those selling or supplying food or drink for consumption in their premises in hospitals, residential care homes, treatment centers, boarding schools, premises controlled or managed by the government, and premises that have been built for use as a private dwelling.

Also exempted are those that cater to staff at the airport and the aviation industry; staff canteens of MTR Corp, franchised bus companies, tunnel operators and franchisees, container terminal operators as well as at the Hong Kong Sports Institute; business catering for welfare services for persons with disabilities, elderly, children and youth, and other disadvantaged groups run by NGOs that provide meals or food and drinks on premises.  

Public amusement places such as games centers, bathhouses, fitness centers, party rooms, beauty parlors, clubs or nightclubs, karaoke establishments, mahjong-tin kau premises, massage parlors, sports premises, beaches, barbecue pits and swimming pools will remain closed.

Those exempted from closure of massage establishments include government-maintained or registered hospitals or maternity homes and military hospitals or maternity homes of the Hong Kong Garrison.
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