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Cowling: keep restrictions and aim for zero cases

2021-02-17 HKT 10:12
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  • Benjamin Cowling says keeping distancing measures in place would raise hopes for a return to normality even without widespread vaccination. File photo: RTHK
    Benjamin Cowling says keeping distancing measures in place would raise hopes for a return to normality even without widespread vaccination. File photo: RTHK
A University of Hong Kong public health expert on Wednesday called on the authorities to keep social distancing measures in place until the SAR stops recording new cases of Covid-19 every day.

Epidemiologist Benjamin Cowling made the comments a day before the government withdraws some social distancing measures, including reopening gyms and beauty salons and allowing restaurants to serve dine-in customers until 10pm instead of 6pm.

"I really think it would be a good idea in Hong Kong if we could keep the restrictions in place a little bit longer and get to zero (new cases), so that we have a chance of staying at zero like New Zealand's mostly managed, Australia's mostly managed, Taiwan and a few other places," Cowling said on RTHK's Backchat programme.

"If you can get to zero, then it's a different kind of strategy to stay at zero with the travel quarantine and so on. Then life can get back to normal even without a vaccine.

"We've seen in New Zealand and Australia they've been doing a lot of normal things for most of the past year – after they've managed to get to zero and stay at zero."

However he said some measures, such as the 6pm dine-in curfew, had little benefit. He also questioned why beaches remained closed.

Appearing on the same programme, the chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Group, Allan Zeman, said allowing restaurants to open in the evening was a "baby step forward" but bars, which will remain closed, were "really, really suffering, on life support".

He said bar owners had "been through hell" and would be happy to abide by any safety measures the government imposed to allow them to reopen.

Speaking on Tuesday, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said a lower number of cases in recent days would allow for the easing of some restrictions, but she said officials would continue to closely watch the number of people diagnosed in case of an uptick after the Lunar New Year holidays.

She said any further easing of measures was unlikely for the time being.