Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Hong Kong Enacts Tougher Measures As Local COVID Cases Rise


By practically any measure, Hong Kong has done a remarkable job containing COVID-19. After a steep rise in cases in early March (see graph above), HK managed to dampen down local transmission to the point that by late May, they could reopen schools, and other public venues. 

That is, until a week ago, when local cases began to climb. On July 7th, HK reported:

There were 14 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in Hong Kong in 2019, nine were local cases and five were imported from abroad. In the local case, four diagnosed patients were restaurant customers or employees.

Since then, Hong Kong has reported more than 220 new cases, the bulk of which have been local.  On Friday, HK announced they would close schools again, and warned of other social distancing measures to come. 

On Monday morning Hong Kong reported 52 new cases, 41 of which were local.  Overnight, another 48 cases (40 local) were reported.  While minuscule when compared to what we are seeing in the United States right now, Hong Kong has decided to act decisively before things get out of control. 

Yesterday, Hong Kong Disneyland closed again less than a month after reopening.  This was posted on their website.
  • As required by the government and health authorities in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong, Hong Kong Disneyland Park will temporarily close from July 15, 2020.
  • The resort hotels will remain open with adjusted level of services. Enhanced health and safety measures that reflect the guidance of health and government authorities have been put in place, such as social distancing measures and increased cleaning and sanitization.
  • We are in contact with health authorities and the government about the situation.
Additional measures, including some that are actually tougher than Hong Kong imposed during the first wave, were announced yesterday by CE Lin Zhengyue yesterday, including a ban on gatherings of more than 4 people, a ban on indoor dining at restaurants, and more stringent face mask rules for the public. 

July 13, 2020
In response to the 2019 coronavirus disease epidemic, the government announced that it will strengthen its anti-epidemic measures, including requiring restaurants to ban dine-in during certain hours, tightening the number of people in public places to a maximum of four, and setting up new regulations to enforce public transportation Wear a mask, etc. Various measures will take effect on July 15.

The Chief Executive, Lin Zhengyue, presided over a press conference today to announce the details of the measures. Regarding social distance, Lin Zhengyue stated that he would tighten the "Prevention and Control of Diseases (Regulations and Instructions) (Business and Location) Regulations" and revert the measures to 12 types of tables including game consoles and fitness centers in the most severe period of the March epidemic. The row is required to be temporarily closed, based on seven days, and then reviewed.
For the catering industry, restaurants are not allowed to eat dine-in except take-out from 6 pm to 5 am the following day. Lin Zhengyue pointed out that the new measures have not been implemented in the past six months. However, due to the current severe situation, it is time to strengthen the control of the catering industry. The measures are also temporarily for seven days, and the government will continue to review the situation.

As for the restrictions on the gathering of groups in public places, all gatherings of more than four persons will be banned, and the exemptions for weddings, annual company meetings or religious events will also be tightened or cancelled.
Lin Zhengyue said that the government will also formulate two new regulations in response to the current epidemic. Among them, the "Prevention and Control of Diseases (Wearing Masks) (Public Transportation) Regulations" obliges all persons using public transportation to wear masks. If passengers are found not wearing masks, they may be prohibited from boarding.

Another new regulation is the Prevention and Control of Diseases (Regulation of Cross-border Transport and Arrivals) Regulation, which empowers the Secretary for Food and Health to impose requirements on passengers arriving in Hong Kong by cross-border transportation such as aircraft and vessels, If the passenger concerned stays in the designated higher-risk area in the past 14 days, he/she must present a negative test result before boarding the aircraft, otherwise the airline concerned will be punished. The new regulations will also take effect from 0:00 on Wednesday.

Additional details to these new measures can be found in two HK Govt announcements:
The lesson from Hong Kong is that nations, states, or communities who have successfully lowered local transmission of COVID-19 dare not let down their guard. No one has `beaten' the virus, as long as the virus continues to spread unabated anywhere in the world.

At best, places like New York City, Taiwan, Thailand, and parts of Europe have won a reprieve. Imported cases will continue to filter in, and if given half a chance, the virus will flourish once more. 

Because Hong Kong has acted swiftly, and their numbers are still low,  they have a decent chance of stopping this new wave before it gets out of hand. 

But there is a tipping point - such as we now see in parts of the United States, South America, and India  - where the volume of cases greatly exceeds local public health's ability to rapidly test, contract trace, and quarantine exposed individuals. 

While regaining control is still possible, it will not happen quickly, and success will come at a heavy price.  As the proverb says; prevention is always better than the cure.