Hong Kong may have to impose a wider lockdown and close all non-essential businesses for several weeks, a top government adviser has said, amid warnings of a "third wave" of coronavirus infections by an epidemiologist.
Bernard Chan's remarks, aired on a prerecorded radio programme on Sunday, came as leading infectious diseases expert Yuen Kwok-yung warned of another transmission surge in the city as mainland Chinese gradually resumed work and might travel to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has since late March banned public gatherings of more than four people, while cinemas, fitness centres, bars, and pubs have been closed for two weeks.
Restaurants also have to keep tables 1 1/2 -metres apart under a government regulation. As of Saturday, there were 863 confirmed coronavirus cases in the city, mostly driven by people with recent travel history.
"We still have room to expand precautions. For example, we could limit restaurants to selling takeaway only. Or we could simply impose a much bigger lockdown across the city, and tell all non-essential businesses to close, so nearly everyone stays home most of the time for a few weeks," Chan said on RTHK's Letter to Hong Kong, noting more residents could be returning to the city in the coming weeks.
"(Expanding precautions) would obviously add to the economic costs. It could also risk spreading panic. But we have to accept that it may be necessary, if the alternative is the risk of something worse."
Chan agreed that the Hong Kong government could have done more, but said it was "a learning process" for all, even a city which had experienced the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic (Sars) in 2003.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said the public should brace for an uncertain outlook for the remaining half of the year, noting it was unclear when the pandemic could be contained.
"Based on the current situation, corporations and individuals should know that the economy may show no signs of improvement in the coming six months, and prepare for contingencies on operations and personal finances," Chan said in his weekly blog on Sunday.
After the second wave (from returning citizens), there could be a third wave from mainland China. This cycle could go on until we have an effective vaccine, or the collective immunity in the community reaches about 60 to 80 per centYuen Kwok-yung, epidemiologist, University of Hong Kong
Chan said the government was considering relief measures that could benefit most sectors. The billion-dollar anti-epidemic fund might look into subsidising employees' salaries, he hinted. He also urged property developers to exercise social responsibility and respond to calls to reduce rents.
After recording the first imported coronavirus infection on January 21 from a Wuhan traveller, Hong Kong emerged from a rush of imported cases from mainland China and is now going through a second wave with the arrival of many people from overseas.
Following criticism of its initial response, the government has shut down most border checkpoints with the mainland, while international tourists have also been barred from entering the city since March.
As business activities in mainland cities resume, Yuen, an epidemiologist from the University of Hong Kong, warned of a potential outbreak in mainland China, which could lead to a third wave of cases in Hong Kong. He also cited five new cases in the neighbouring Guangdong province on Saturday with unclear sources of transmission, which he said could be imported cases.
"If there is a third wave, it could be due to the resumption of businesses on the mainland," Yuen said, stressing that was still hypothetical.
"After the second wave (from returning citizens), there could be a third wave from mainland China. This cycle could go on until we have an effective vaccine, or the collective immunity in the community reaches about 60 to 80 per cent."
He said the social-distancing measures and border restrictions with the mainland China could only be relaxed when the situation improved.
The administration is now adding quarantine facilities, including an additional 1,660 units from two more blocks of Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan, according to Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung.
At least 1,000 units from makeshift quarantine facilities, including on government land in Penny's Bay and three holiday camps, could also be rolled out between this month and July.
Meanwhile, labour and welfare minister Law Chi-kwong called on employers to encourage domestic helpers to stay home on Sunday or take their statutory day off on weekdays.
Law stressed it was against the labour laws to ask domestic helpers to work on their rest days. Even if these helpers voluntarily agree to work while staying at home, employers must pay extra remuneration, he added.
"This is only due to the exceptional circumstances (for domestic workers to voluntarily work on their rest days), and should not be viewed as a precedent or the usual practice," Law said in his weekly blog.
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