Hong Kong will impose new social restrictions and ask more students to stay home as local cases jump by the most in about three months, signaling the arrival of a new wave and threatening a high-profile travel air bubble with Singapore days before itslaunch.
The city reported 26 new infections on Friday, of which 21 are local. The government has also detected over 30 preliminary cases awaiting confirmation, a sign that Friday’s jump is not an anomaly. The surge comes as other parts of Asia, including Japan and South Korea, see alarming flareups as colder weather sets in.
Classes for primary school levels 1 to 3 will be suspended from Nov. 23 for two weeks. Kindergartens and nurseries have beensuspended since a week ago due to outbreaks of upper respiratory tract infection and the risks of coronavirus resurgence. No students or school staff have tested positive for Covid-19 yet, said officials.
“Hong Kong’s epidemic has shown rapid deterioration and experts have said the fourth wave is inevitable,” Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said in a briefing Friday. “We have done a series of measures to strengthen control, but we still see the situation turning bad.”
The turn for the worse comes two days before the former British colony is due to launch an air travel bubble with fellow financial hub Singapore, in what is the world’s first quarantine-free travel arrangement open to all residents. Seen as a template for how to restart global travel, the bubble’s growing precariousness could now make it a cautionary tale about the futility of such efforts while the coronavirus remains rampant and volatile.
Thebubble would be suspended for two weeks once the seven-day moving average of local, untraceable cases in either city rises above five.
With the first flights to take off on Sunday, travelers may face the prospect of the bubble being suspended before or during their trips.
The share of untraceable infections among Hong Kong’s Friday case tally will be published later in the day.
The city will now make mass testing mandatory among certain groups, though officials did not specify which. It is also mulling measures like tightening the numbers allowed to gather at local hotels during “staycation” trips. Chan urged all residents to stop “unnecessary” gatherings and wear masks at all times.
The government is hoping that the flareup can be contained before reaching the level of the outbreak that started in early July, Hong Kong’s worst-ever. Then, restrictions like a ban on public gatherings of more than two people and the closure of restaurants between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m. dealt a significant blow to the financial center’s economy.
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