Hong Kong’s leader has announced the city’s toughest social-distancing restrictions yet, including unprecedented limits on private gatherings, as new daily cases surge above 600.
Chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that gatherings in private premises of more than two families will be banned starting on Thursday.
Public gatherings will be restricted to two people, and hair salons and places of worship will be closed until February 24, when the city launches a “vaccine pass” that will require people to show proof of vaccination to enter shopping malls, markets and eateries.
The tightened measures come as the city grapples with a new wave of the coronavirus driven by the Omicron variant.
More than 600 local cases were reported on Tuesday.
“I appeal to the public to join us in the fight against the virus,” Ms Lam said at a news conference. “Please try to avoid going out as far as possible.”
Hong Kong has aligned itself with China’s “zero-COVID” policy, which aims to totally stamp out outbreaks, as many other countries shift their approach to living with the virus.
Authorities impose lockdowns on residential buildings wherever clusters of infections are identified, and have banned public dining after 6pm.
Ms Lam said that approach will remain in effect until vaccination rates rise.
“We will continue to adhere to the current strategy of trying to contain the spread of the virus, or what we call maintaining this dynamic zero regime,” Ms Lam said.
“But when vaccination rates increase, when Omicron disappears and other things happen, then of course we will continue to revisit our strategy. But nothing will change our commitment to safeguard the life and the safety of the people of Hong Kong.”
Lam also announced that the government will introduce a sixth round of subsidies totalling $HK26 billion ($4.7 billion) for businesses and individuals affected by the pandemic.
Those suffering from temporary unemployment as a result of the pandemic will receive a one-time payment of $HK1300, while front-line workers such as cleaners, security guards and airport cargo staff will receive about $HK250 a month for five months.