Hong Kong Extends Virus Restrictions, Pursues Mass Testing

Residents can expect to see more targeted “ambush lockdowns” in the next 10 days.

Looking down a major road in Hong Kong toward Lion Rock. (Photo: Adam Jang/Unsplash)

Social distancing restrictions in Hong Kong have been extended for another two weeks as the daily count of new Covid-19 infections remains in the double digits. Until February 17, public gatherings of more than two people are banned, while eateries can only accommodate two patrons at each table and operate at half-capacity. (Dine-in services must end at 6 p.m.) Gyms, sports centers, and swimming pools are still shut, although there are plans to reopen low-risk outdoor sporting venues on Thursday, with all users required to check in and out with the LeaveHomeSafe app.

Hong Kong’s government is now pursuing a strategy of localized “ambush lockdowns” focused on specific buildings or streets; those in the affected areas will not be allowed to leave their homes until they have been tested for the virus. Yesterday, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said the administration would go “all-out” and impose at least one lockdown per day in different districts during the lead-up to Lunar New Year. Cheung also announced a new rule for all apartment blocks: if a single untraceable case of Covid-19 is found, all residents will have to be tested for the virus. Workplaces will also be subject to mandatory testing if at least two cases are detected.

Officials have set the ambitious goal of bringing the number of community infections to zero. Later this month, the Hong Kong government will likely introduce a 14-day quarantine requirement for locally based air crew flying long-haul passenger and cargo flights, dealing what critics have called a “death blow” to the territory’s struggling aviation sector. Cathay Pacific has said the new measures would cut its existing (and already much-reduced) passenger capacity by as much as 60 percent, while FedEx has offered to temporarily relocate its 180 Hong Kong–based airline pilots and their families to San Francisco in response. The territory already has some of the strictest quarantine requirements in the world, with returning travelers obliged to spend 21 days inside a hotel room at their own expense.

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