With coronavirus infections continuing to surge, the need for more stringent measures is obvious. Instead of pushing ahead with a much criticised alcohol ban at bars and restaurants, more sweeping restrictions have been imposed by the government in an attempt to reduce risks arising from social gatherings, which have contributed to the ongoing spread but been too often ignored.
The new measures, lasting at least 14 days from Sunday, limit gatherings to no more than four people and close premises such as cinemas, fitness centres, saunas, party venues, gaming centres and pool halls. Restaurant tables, to seat a maximum of four customers, must also be at least 1.5 metres apart.
With another daily record of infections on Friday, the government cannot be blamed for going further with social distancing. Similar measures have been introduced in Asia, Europe and North America and, unless the situation improves, are likely to remain for some time.
The public is entitled to know what prompted Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to change her mind regarding an alcohol ban, but many saw such a move as misguided. The embattled city leader is adamant that it was just a proposal, and she is glad the community was able to discuss the issue and agree restrictions should not target any particular industry. The virus transcends industries and borders, and it makes better sense to regulate numbers at premises such as restaurants.
Questions have been raised as to whether the cap on public gatherings should be tightened further. Lam, who stresses the measures are based on best available evidence, admits that the threshold of four people has no scientific base. As with previous regulations, there is no reason why it cannot be adjusted in light of a changing situation.
The rush to restrict social gatherings and entries to the city owes much to complacency following a relatively mild outbreak in the early stages. However, a threefold rise in imported and local cases over the past two weeks suggests the city is already lagging in terms of defensive measures. Experts say any further action in response to the latest surge is actually overdue. The new rules still fall far short of full lockdowns imposed in other places. The situation is likely to worsen if we just sit back and do nothing.
In the absence of a cure or vaccine, prevention remains the best weapon. Too many restrictions and exemptions are bound to cause confusion and make enforcement difficult, but self-discipline is the key. The spirit is to keep the disease at bay by observing a proper social distance.
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