Passengers wear surgical masks in an MTR train in Hong Kong on July 13 2020. Picture: REUTERS/TYRONE SIU
Passengers wear surgical masks in an MTR train in Hong Kong on July 13 2020. Picture: REUTERS/TYRONE SIU

Hong Kong — Hong Kong has implemented its strictest suite of social-distancing measures yet as the Asian financial hub looks set to be the first in the region where a new outbreak surpasses previous waves in severity.

Bars, gyms and beaches will be closed, public gatherings limited to four people, and fines will be doled out to those refusing to wear masks on public transport as officials try to slow a resurgence that has infected almost 200 people in a week.

The sweeping set of measures, announced by CEO Carrie Lam on Monday night, illustrate how the second and third waves of the coronavirus pandemic around the world could be worse than the initial outbreak, requiring more painful shutdowns.

In its escalation of broad-based measures, Hong Kong is adopting a more hard-nosed approach to the flare-up of cases compared to South Korea, Japan and China. Those countries are relying on targeted containment moves to avoid the economic devastation that broad lockdowns incur.

For residents finding themselves back in crisis after a six-week stretch of normal life, the change is jarring. While the closures are for an initial period of seven days, officials said they may be extended if the outbreak does not slow. Dining-in may be barred completely next, after now being limited to between 5am and 6pm, local media outlet RTHK reported, citing secretary for food and health Sophia Chan.

“I’m so depressed when I see the rising case numbers,” said Liu Jia, a 30-year-old investment banker. “I feel my career is stuck and I myself am also stuck physically in the city. Everything is back to the painful time we’ve been suffering months ago, and the entire year will be wasted.”

The resurgence is likely to stamp out the tentative green shoots that Hong Kong’s battered economy had been showing. With locals unable to travel out of the city this summer, the retail and hospitality sectors had been seeing signs of a recovery in demand before the latest flare-up.

“Hong Kong’s economy had just warmed up and now we have the third wave of outbreak,” said Francis Kwok, vice-chair of the Hong Kong Institute of Financial Analysts and Professional Commentators. “Working in the financial industry, the most vital thing for us is the economy so everyone can go to work and run business normally. The worsening outbreak will also affect the mood of the financial market.”

For others, familiarity breeds some comfort.

“During the first round of restrictions, working from home was super hard and when the restrictions were lifted, everyone went crazy the second they felt they were let out,” said Ryan Manuel, a strategist at Silverhorn Investment. “Now it’s like, OK, we do the same thing again and we know what to do now.”


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