Hong Kong Executive Director Carrie Lam warned that the city is on the brink of a significant coronavirus outbreak that could overwhelm its hospitals, and called on residents to follow strict new measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, new cases reported in mainland China reached levels last seen in April, raising fears that the virus may be re-emerging there.
“We are on the verge of a large-scale community outbreak, which can lead to a collapse of our hospital system and cost lives, especially the elderly,” Lam said while wearing a face mask in a prerecorded video message released late Tuesday.
“What we need now is your cooperation,” added Lam. “In order to protect our loved ones, our health care staff and Hong Kong, I ask that you strictly follow social distancing measures and stay home as far as possible.”
On Wednesday, meetings of more than two people and restaurant meals were banned. Face masks have become mandatory in public places both indoors and outdoors.
Initially, Hong Kong was praised for weathering the first two waves of the pandemic, but the third spike earlier this month turned out to be a major setback, prompting the government to reimpose strict measures of social distancing and suspend school classes.
What makes stopping the new Hong Kong outbreak even more difficult is a lack of understanding where the new locally transmitted cases come from, Lam said.
“The recent emergence of local cases of unknown sources of infection indicates the existence of sustained silent transmission in the community,” said the government guide published Monday.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong reported 106 new cases of coronavirus, including 98 that were transmitted locally. The day before, the city reported 145 new cases, setting a new daily maximum.
Since the start of the outbreak, 2,885 people have been infected in the former British colony, with 23 deaths.
In mainland China, where the virus first emerged, there were 101 new cases reported on Tuesday, with 98 of them transmitted locally, most of them in the country’s northwest Xinjiang province.
The last time the number of cases in mainland China exceeded 100 was in mid-April.
So far, China has recorded 84,060 cases and 4,634 deaths.
While the recent increase in cases in Hong Kong is concerning for its health officials, the epidemiological situation in the city is still much less dramatic than in much of Europe, where several countries face a second wave of infections, or the US. USA, where the death toll exceeded 150,000 on Tuesday according to an NBC News count. Florida alone set a record with nearly 200 new COVID-19 deaths recorded overnight.
Ed Flanagan contributed