In the first sign of confirmation that the current COVID resurgence taking place in northeastern China might be more widespread than the Chinese state (and its attendant party-controlled press organs) have been letting on, the city of Hong Kong on Friday just announced its first-ever lockdown, a measure that is reminiscent of the harsher measures used to combat the outbreak of SARs, which hammered the tiny (formally) autonomous city state nearly 20 years ago.
According to the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong will lock down around 150 residential buildings in coronavirus-hit Yau Tsim Mong district. To enforce the measure, the city will deploy more than 1.7K "disciplined services officers" - 500 from police, and the rest from customs, immigration, fire services and correctional services - in an "unprecedented" bid to protect a neighborhood stuffed with ageing, subdivided flats, apartments.
Like elsewhere in China, new cases in Hong Kong have been rising in recent weeks, with the city recording 61 new coronavirus cases on Friday, including 55 that were locally transmitted. Twenty-six cases deemed "untraceable." Another 50 people tested preliminary-positive, and are awaiting confirmation.
The lockdown is expected to begin at midnight in the district’s designated mandatory testing area. Sources earlier clarified that Sham Shui Po district, originally believed to be included in the plan, was not yet affected.
Elsewhere in China, authorities in Beijing and Hubei are setting up more rounds of mandatory COVID testing covering millions of people as they continue to scramble to keep the virus out of Beijing.
Here's a quick breakdown of the what the new lockdown will entail, according ot the SCMP. And by the looks of it, the lockdown is even more restrictive than the emergency-tier system in the UK that's been causing so much consternation among the British people:
Where is the lockdown?
Designated last week, the compulsory testing area is bordered by Nathan Road, Jordan Road, Kansu Street and Ferry Street, and is expected to effectively be locked down by Friday midnight, pending an official announcement. Starting on Saturday morning, residents living in some 150 buildings in the cordon will not be allowed to leave the area until the restriction is lifted, which could be as soon as Sunday.
About 4 per cent of the city’s population of 7.5 million people live in the whole of Yau Tsim Mong. The district covers the areas of Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok, and Jordan, and is the second most populous area across the city’s 18 districts, based on official census data. The locked down area is located in the middle of the district, along the thoroughfare Nathan Road.
The district is known for popular tourist sites such as Temple Street, which has a bustling night market, a section of which is among the hard-hit areas closed off under the stay-at-home order.
However, other sites in the district such as the rows of souvenir stalls in Ladies’ Market, and the Flower Market in Mong Kok, as well as the wholesale fruit market, known as gwoo lan, have been spared from the lockdown.
While the area under lock down involves old residential blocks in Kowloon, the city’s high density means it is close to glitzy shopping centres and skyscrapers housing international companies.
Who is affected? And what restrictions are there?
Only three types of people will be allowed to enter the area: residents, relatives staying in the same flat as those in need of care, and staff members in urgently needed sectors such as elderly care.
Exemptions will be made for residents who need to see a doctor, or face physical harm.
Even those who previously tested negative for the coronavirus under a compulsory screening notice are to be asked to remain at home as much as practicable, rather than wander within the locked down zone, a government source said.
Shops in the designated areas will remain closed if the shopkeepers do not live in the area, with government employees providing food and daily necessities to residents in need.
Is the lockdown necessary?
Respiratory disease expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu has advised that lockdown orders should have been implemented at the same time as compulsory orders were first issued to limit the movement of asymptomatic carriers within a specific area.
“When there is a very localised outbreak, implementing a lockdown at the very early stage when cases first emerge would prevent the infections from spilling over to other areas,” Leung said.
He believed it was too late to issue an order now, as carriers living in the coronavirus hotspots could have spread the virus elsewhere while going about their lives day to day.
Frank Ho Fu-wing, district councillor for Jordan North, said issuing the order at the last minute left residents in the area unprepared.
As outbreaks across China worsen, we'll be keeping a close eye out as well for any spillover developments in Hong Kong, which should help bolster Beijing's "claims" that the latest wave of the virus spread from outside China back to within its borders - whether that's accurate, or not.