Political advisers and medical experts in Hong Kong on Wednesday called for legislation to ban public gatherings to further reduce the worrying spread of the novel coronavirus in the community.
They said the planned alcohol ban would by itself be ineffective in reducing all types of social gatherings. They made these remarks as the city recorded 24 new cases of novel coronavirus infections — mostly returnees from Europe or North America — taking the city’s total to 410.
Among the five new patients without recent travel histories, three were linked to bars in the Lan Kwai Fong nightlife hub.
Speaking at a daily press briefing on Wednesday, Sara Ho Yuen-ha, Hospital Authority chief manager (patient safety and risk management), said the usage rate of the city’s 1,010 isolation beds had increased to 53 percent. The occupancy rate of isolation beds has remained at over 50 percent in recent days. This is despite the authority’s increasing the number of isolation beds from 954 to 1,010.
To ease mounting pressure on isolation facilities, Ho said temporary tents will be set up outside accident and emergency departments at public hospitals across the city.
Despite the slight drop in the number of new cases compared with previous days, Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, told a press briefing that Hong Kong must not become complacent.
Chuang said people are still coming back from overseas, and it takes some time before they show symptoms and are isolated. Therefore, there is a danger that people could become careless and disregard social distancing. This could result in a major community outbreak, Chuang warned.
Leung Chi-chiu, a doctor specializing in the respiratory system and chairman of the Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases under the Hong Kong Medical Association, called for tougher, more-decisive measures to ban crowd gatherings.
Although the government plans to ban alcohol sales at restaurants and bars soon, Leung said people could still gather together to eat or engage in other social activities.
He believes the government should introduce bans on gatherings and send a clearer message to the public that Hong Kong is under very high risk of a community outbreak.
Lam Ching-choi, a member of the Executive Council, said the government is examining more straightforward measures to ensure people respect social distancing.
The doctor said the most effective way is to set a limit on the number of people that can gather together. He believes the government will consider how feasible it would be to legislate on this and to enforce it.