HONG KONG, July 20 (Xinhua) -- The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government announced the extension of social distancing measures on Monday, as 73 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported here, bringing the total cases to 1,958.
At a media briefing on Monday afternoon, the HKSAR government's Center for Health Protection (CHP) reported 66 additional local infections and seven imported cases of COVID-19.
Out of the 66 local infections, 39 are related to previously confirmed cases, while the source of infection of the other 27 cases remained unknown, Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the CHP's Communicable Disease Branch said at the briefing.
The seven imported cases involved persons with travel history to places such as the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.
Chuang said it is difficult at present to predict the epidemic situation in Hong Kong, calling on members of the public to avoid going out as much as possible.
The HKSAR government said it gazetted on Monday the directions under a relevant regulation to extend for another week the existing social distancing measures, including restriction on group gatherings, catering services and entertainment facilities, and required mask-wearing on board public transport carrier.
The HKSAR government said in a press release on Monday evening that it strongly urges the public to stay at home as much as possible, go out less often unless necessary, and avoid dining out and unnecessary social activities including private gatherings, so as to fight the epidemic together and prevent the virus from continuing to spread in the community.
The epidemic situation of COVID-19 in Hong Kong has undergone drastic changes recently. The daily additional cases surpassed 100 on Sunday for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong.
Among the 108 new cases reported on Sunday, 83 were local cases, and a total of 351 new cases recorded from July 13 to Sunday were without travel history during the incubation period, according to the press release.
"The recent emergence of local cases of unknown infection source indicates the existence of sustained silent transmission in the community. The latest public health risk assessment shows that the risk of a large-scale community outbreak is now the highest since the emergence of the epidemic in Hong Kong," it said.
The HKSAR government's Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung announced earlier on Monday that in view of the recent spate of COVID-19 cases and no sign of improvement at the moment, it is rather impossible for some schools to commence the new school year as scheduled.
Due to COVID-19, all secondary schools, primary schools, special schools and kindergartens in Hong Kong have advanced the commencement of the summer holiday to July 13.
Some international schools and kindergartens used to start their new school years in the first half of August, but Yeung said that "we anticipate at this stage that classes of all schools, including international schools and kindergartens, would not commence earlier than Aug. 17."
The final commencement date will depend on the development of the epidemic, he said.
According to Hong Kong's Hospital Authority, as of Monday noon, 1,302 patients with confirmed or probable infection have been discharged from hospitals after recovery, while 562 confirmed patients are currently hospitalized in 14 hospitals, including 23 in critical condition and 13 in serious condition. Enditem