Hong Kong will further tighten social distancing rules as daily coronavirus cases have continued trending upward in the past weeks, the government said Monday.
Starting Wednesday, dine-in services in restaurants will be barred, face masks will be mandatory in all public places, more sports venues will be closed and public gathering will be limited to two individuals, down from four, for seven days.
"The COVID-19 new coronavirus infection is highly contagious, and the pandemic changes fast. We have to do our utmost to prevent the virus from spreading further in the community," Matthew Cheung, the chief secretary for administration, told reporters.
"The coming two to three weeks are extremely crucial. We sincerely urge the public to stay home, cut down socializing and dining out. We also strongly appeal to employers to allow staff to work from home as much as possible," he said.
A complete lockdown or stay home order is not a viable option, for now, Cheung said, as a more balanced approach is preferred. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said such measures will not be adopted "unless there is really no other choice."
Shipping crew members will continue to be exempt from quarantine provided they can show proof of health when entering Hong Kong starting Wednesday, a measure Cheung said strikes the right balance between public health and the economy.
Health experts have blamed the exempted visitors, some of whom later tested positive for the virus but might have already left Hong Kong after a short stay, for spreading the virus.
Certain workers, including taxi drivers, nursing home caretakers and those running wet market stalls, will undergo virus testing to help track down cases in the community.
Between July 13 and Sunday, 1,164 new cases were reported, with the majority of them being locally transmitted cases. A new daily high of 145 cases was reported on Monday, bringing the total to 2,778 and 20 deaths.