HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday urged residents of the densely populated city to stay at home and avoid unnecessary family gatherings as the global financial hub scrambles to contain a new rise in COVID-19 cases.
Lam was speaking at her weekly press conference a day after the government announced tighter measures to curb the spread of the disease which will see group gatherings restricted to two people and most civil servants working from home.
Schools across the territory will close for the rest of the year from Wednesday.
“The new wave of the epidemic is very severe and every citizen has to strictly uphold discipline. The upcoming two weeks is very critical,” Lam said. “Please stay at home, especially the elderly, and also avoid social gatherings.”
The worsening situation in Hong Kong also prompted the government to extend the postponement of an air-travel bubble with Singapore on Tuesday to beyond 2020.
Having once had the highest COVID-19 rates in Southeast Asia, Singapore has all but eradicated the virus and has the world’s lowest fatality rate with just 28 deaths.
Hong Kong has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases after weeks of reporting single-digit or low double digit daily numbers, but it has so far avoided a complete lockdown implemented in other cities across the world.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong reported 82 new cases, bringing the total in the city of 7.4 million people to 6,397 since the epidemic started, with 109 deaths.
While there had been a ban on gatherings of more than four people, larger groups of residents have been widely seen together across the territory, especially on weekends and public holidays, although it’s rare to see anyone without a face mask.
Reporting By Donny Kwok, Clare Jim and Twinnie Siu; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Pravin Char