An advisor to the government on containing the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday said the authorities may have to consider ordering a shutdown of businesses like bars, restaurants, cinemas and gyms, if the local outbreak continues to worsen amid a surge of confirmed cases in the past few days.
Professor Gabriel Leung, Dean of the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Medicine, said as a first step, eateries should suspend their evening operations to discourage people from going out on to the streets and potentially spreading the virus around.
In a television interview, Leung said the community may be faced with some “painful” decisions in the next few days, and said various stakeholders will need to take such steps decisively.
If the number of cases continues to grow, Leung warned, the government may have to follow the example of some foreign countries in ordering a wider business shutdown.
However, he said the administration must step in and give the necessary assistance to affected low-income workers if such a drastic move needs to be taken.
Leung has been warning that the influx of people returning from virus hotspots like Europe and the United States, coupled with people generally relaxing their vigilance against the coronavirus, means Hong Kong is now at its highest risk of a broad and sustained community outbreak.
While the government has been randomly testing incoming travellers for the virus at the airport before a mandatory 14-day home quarantine, Leung said everyone returning to the territory from Europe, the UK, and North America should be tested.
He said anyone who’s infected must be identified as soon as possible to prevent a major local outbreak.
Leung also reiterated his calls for people to only go out when it's absolutely necessary.
Executive Councillor Lam Ching-choi agreed that the government should start imposing restrictions on high-risk places such as bars and wedding venues, if people keep congregating in such areas, raising the risk of a community outbreak.
Choi also told RTHK that the administration is looking into building new, prefabricated quarantine centres at Lei Yue Mun and in the area around Hong Kong Disney to house recovering patients or people who have mild symptoms and are awaiting results of coronavirus tests.
Choi said these units would each have their own bathrooms, and good ventilation.
However, he noted that such spaces are limited, and home quarantine remains effective so long as people practice self-discipline.
The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam had on Saturday warning people who violate mandatory quarantine orders that they would be prosecuted without warning.
Last updated: 2020-03-22 HKT 18:11