At the start of this month, restaurants here had wait-lists, bars were overflowing, and beaches were dotted with umbrellas and sand seekers. Three weeks had elapsed since the last locally transmitted novel coronavirus case, and the pandemic appeared to be down, if not entirely beaten.
All of that progress has come to a halt, as government missteps and a mutated strain of the coronavirus have led to the most severe wave of infections in Hong Kong since the onset of the crisis in January.
Cases, though modest in comparison with the United States, are setting new daily records. Isolation wards are filling up. From Wednesday, restaurants must suspend dine-in services, masks will be mandatory — even for people exercising outdoors — and residents will be prohibited from gathering in groups of more than two, as officials impose the strictest social distancing measures here to date.
Heralded until recently as a model in the fight against the coronavirus, Hong Kong is emerging as a cautionary tale. Medical experts have blamed large gatherings and government exemptions that allowed certain groups to enter the city without the 14-day quarantine period and virus test mandatory for everyone else. [Continue reading…]