Hong Kong imposes its toughest social restrictions yet to curb coronavirus

Hong Kong’s leader Tuesday announced the city’s toughest social-distancing restrictions yet of the pandemic, including unprecedented limits on private gatherings, as new daily cases surge above 600.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said gatherings on private premises of more than two families will be banned starting Thursday.

Public gatherings will be restricted to two people, and hair salons and places of worship will be closed until Feb. 24, when the city launches a “vaccine pass” that will require people to show proof of vaccination to enter shopping malls, markets and eateries.

The tightened measures come as the city grapples with a new wave of the coronavirus driven by the Omicron variant. More than 600 local cases were reported Tuesday.

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“I appeal to the public to join us in the fight against the virus,” Lam said at a news conference. “Please try to avoid going out as far as possible.”

Hong Kong has aligned itself with China’s zero-tolerance COVID policy, unlike many other countries that are shifting their approach to living with the coronavirus.

Hong Kong authorities impose lockdowns on residential buildings wherever clusters of infections are identified, and have banned public dining after 6 p.m.

Lam said that approach would remain in effect until vaccination rates rise.

“We will continue to adhere to the current strategy of trying to contain the spread of the virus, or what we call maintaining this dynamic zero regime,” Lam said.

“But when vaccination rates increase, when Omicron disappears and other things happen, then of course we will continue to revisit our strategy. But nothing will change our commitment to safeguard the life and the safety of the people of Hong Kong.”

Lam also announced that the government would introduce a sixth round of subsidies totaling 26 billion Hong Kong dollars ($3.3 billion) for businesses and individuals affected by the pandemic.

Those suffering from temporary unemployment as a result of the pandemic will receive a onetime payment of $1,300, while front-line workers such as cleaners, security guards and airport cargo staff will receive about $250 a month for five months.

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