Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Carrie Lam attends a press conference in Hong Kong, south China, March 27, 2020. (Xinhua/Lui Siu Wai)
HONG KONG, March 27 (Xinhua) -- The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government on Friday announced a new round of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, such as limits on gatherings and restaurant services, in response to surging imported cases.
Group gatherings of more than four people in public places will be prohibited over the next two weeks from Sunday, HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a press conference. Those occur at workplaces or belong to official procedures, as well as weddings and funerals, will be exempted.
Restrictions will also be imposed on dine-in services of restaurants, bars and cafes since Saturday night, including closing half of all the seats, limit the number of diners at each table to four, keeping each table 1.5 meters apart, and measuring temperatures of diners.
Entertainment venues will be shut down also since Saturday evening, including amusement game centers, fitness rooms, cinemas and rinks.
The new moves designed to further enforce social distancing came in amid an escalated COVID-19 situation in Hong Kong.
The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases surged from less than 140 to more than 500 in Hong Kong during the past two weeks as the rapidly-spreading pandemic overseas increased the imported risk of Hong Kong. The new cases stood at 65 cases on Friday, the biggest daily jump since the COVID-19 outbreak.
The government had already started controlling inbound trips to cut off the COVID-19 transmission, such as banning the entry of all non-local travelers from overseas and imposing a 14-day compulsory quarantine on visitors.
Also at the press conference, the Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said more efforts will be made to identify virus carriers from abroad and prevent the spread in the community as the Department of Health will start to collect respiratory samples of all asymptomatic travelers arriving in Hong Kong by flight.
As the government toughened up compulsory quarantines, 77 people have been sent to quarantine centers after leaving their designated residences without permissions, John Lee, Secretary for Security, said.
As the new measures will inevitably deal a blow to related industries, Lam said the HKSAR government will rolled out schemes to subsidize affected businesses but added that employers who want to apply for the schemes should not lay off workers amid the epidemic.
Lam said the government will also launch the second round of relief measures under its anti-epidemic fund and will hammer out specific plans with representatives of related industries.
To prop the epidemic-hit economy and save jobs, the HKSAR government has carried out 24 relief measures under its 30-billion-Hong Kong-dollar (about 3.87 billion U.S. dollars) anti-epidemic fund, which is expected to benefit over 110,000 businesses, 200,000 families and 1.47 million people.
Of all, a retail sector subsidy scheme will help some 70,000 retailers hard hit by the epidemic keep afloat, with each eligible store to receive a one-off subsidy of 80,000 Hong Kong dollars.
Besides, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said Friday that it has approved subsidies worth about 12.5 million Hong Kong dollars for six private production lines of protective face masks, which will be able to produce 10 million masks in total each month.
The government has approved subsidies for eight production lines to ease the shortage of medical gears amid the epidemic, with more in the pipeline. (1 Hong Kong dollar equals 0.13 U.S. dollar)