Carrie Lam, the leader of Hong Kong, said on Monday that there are no current plans to tighten strict social distancing measures as authorities battle to contain a deepening coronavirus outbreak that has submerged the city’s health system and caused a spike in deaths.
Lam stated that there was little room for further tightening because the global financial hub had already implemented the strictest measures since its COVID strategy began in 2020. Gatherings of more than two people are prohibited, most venues, including schools, are closed, and masks are required everywhere, even when exercising outside.
“The government has to be very careful before tightening social distancing measures further … with the need to consider the mental health of citizens,” she told a daily press briefing.
Lam said last week that the city government had no time frame for a potential compulsory mass testing of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million residents.
Hong Kong has reported more than 700,000 infections and about 4,000 deaths, most of them taking place in the past three weeks. The former British colony has followed mainland China’s ‘dynamic zero’ COVID strategy which seeks to curb all outbreaks as soon as they occur.
The Chinese-ruled territory has had its borders effectively sealed for two years with few flights able to land here and most transit passengers banned.
But deaths have spiked, particularly amongst its mostly unvaccinated elderly, with the city registering the most deaths per million people globally in the week to March 10, according to data publication Our World in Data.
Lam’s comments came after China reported a surge in new local coronavirus cases on Sunday, more than triple the caseload of the previous day, and the highest in about two years.
Some mainland Chinese internet users took to social media platforms to express anger at Hong Kong, saying it has failed to control its coronanvirus outbreak and blaming the hub for causing the country’s latest spike in infections.
“Shenzhen people have been scolding Hong Kong every day for the past month. It’s very clear that it has caused so much trouble for others,” said one internet user, called Chen Shui, posting on Chinese social media platform Weibo.