Hong Kong imposes strictest COVID-19 curbs as daily cases hit new high for second day running

Screengrab of the Information Services Department’s video of a presser on COVID-19 restrictions by Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam on Feb. 8, 2022.
Screengrab of the Information Services Department’s video of a presser on COVID-19 restrictions by Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam on Feb. 8, 2022.

Hong Kong’s leader announced the city’s strictest COVID-19 restrictions to date on Tuesday, including banning multi-household private gatherings and barring the unvaccinated from supermarkets, as new cases rose to 625, a record for the second day in a row.

Speaking to reporters after her weekly Executive Council meeting, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the new measures include banning gatherings of more than two households in private places from Thursday, and closing hair salons and religious venues from Thursday to Feb. 23. 

Premises including gyms and beauty parlors, which were earlier ordered to close till Feb. 18, will also be asked to remain shuttered till Feb. 23. 

For the cross-household private gathering ban, officials conceded that they would not proactively seek to enforce the regulation, but would take actions if they find such violations later such as during the contract tracing process.

Authorities added that caregivers from a different household will not be counted as such, hence a gathering can take place with two different households and a caregiver who does not live with them.

The cap on gatherings in public places will be lowered from four to two from Thursday.

The announcement of the new measures came as the city reported 625 new cases on Tuesday, with 621 local infections.

Health officials added there were 2,628 confirmed cases reported in the last two weeks.

The source for 898 of these infections still cannot be traced; most of them found in districts such as Sha Tin, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon City and Kwai Tsing.

More than 85 percent are of the Omicron variant.

Authorities said many of the cases originated from cross-family gatherings.

Lam also said six more venues will be added to the list of premises that require a vaccine pass for entry.

They are religious venues, hair salons, supermarkets, markets, shopping centres and department stores, which are in addition to places such as restaurants and cinemas that will be closed to the unvaccinated from Feb. 24, 2022.

“We have not made it mandatory to get vaccinated through legislation. We have not reached this stage… We are just making it inconvenient… We are using very tough measures because we have to protect Hong Kong,” said Lam.

She added she has given enough time for the public to get jabbed, despite some complaining of difficulties in making bookings for vaccination.

Permanent Secretary for Food and Health Thomas Chan also gave an update on the vaccine pass requirements.

For the first phase, which begins on Feb. 24, everyone 12 and above have to get at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to enter such premises.

For the second phase, which begins in end April, all those 18 and above will be required to get at least two doses, while those 12 to 17 years old will only need to get one dose because of longer waiting times needed between jabs for this group.

For the third phase, which begins in end June, everyone 18 and above who have received the second dose more than nine months ago will need to take the third dose to fulfil the vaccine pass requirement.

For those 12 to 17 years old, if they received their first jab more than six months ago, they will need to get the second dose to fulfil the requirement.

Only children under 12 and those who are certified by doctors as not suitable for COVID-19 jabs can be exempted from the vaccine pass requirements.

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