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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Hong Kong extends coronavirus lockdown amid protests over new Chinese law

Hong Kong has been praised for the way it has contained the coronavirus. However, a new cluster of cases has propelled the government into extending restrictions. This extension comes amid protests about a new law being imposed by the central government.

Hong Kong has decided to extend coronavirus restrictions after a new cluster of infections was detected, local media reported on Tuesday. Many have criticised Hong Kong’s extension of the coronavirus lockdown, believing it to be for purposes other than public health. 

According to Hong Kong Free Press, the government has prolonged the ban on public gatherings of more than eight people and the restrictions on customers at bars and restaurants.

Hong Kong extends coronavirus lockdown after new cases surface 

Hong Kong’s decision to extend the lockdown was taken after nine new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the country, raising its total to 1,093, including four deaths.

The curbs, which were due to end on Thursday, will remain in force until June 18, according to Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan.

Hong Kong’s health rules limiting public gatherings to groups of eight will be extended by another two weeks at least.

“I am very worried about this outbreak in community,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said as six more coronavirus infections were confirmed on Tuesday, four of them locally transmitted, taking the city’s total to 1,093.

Entry restrictions and mandatory quarantine will apply until July 7 for travelers from mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau, and Sept. 18 for overseas arrivals.

Hong Kong extended the coronavirus lockdown as two medical experts called for more testing, with a University of Hong Kong study finding that one-fifth of infected people in the city were responsible for 80 per cent of those who caught the virus.

Praise for Hong Kong’s handling of coronavirus 

Hong Kong has been praised for its efficient handling of the coronavirus. 

As of June 2 it had 1,088 confirmed or probable cases (and four deaths), for a population of about 7.5 million. The city has managed to largely suppress local outbreaks of Covid-19 without a lockdown or mandatory blanket stay-at-home orders, favoring instead a strategy of testing people suspected of being infected, tracing and quarantining their contacts and isolating confirmed cases in the hospital — coupled with outright bans or other restrictions on large social gatherings.

Seventy percent of the people infected did not pass on the virus to anyone.

After these measures were progressively relaxed in recent weeks, a new outbreak of seven cases, possibly a superspreading event, has been reported over the past few days: Three are employees of a food-packing company; the other four live in the same housing estate as one of the employees.

Citizens are also taking precautionary measures themselves.

A Pakistani family in Hong Kong is distributing free face masks and sanitary products among people to help the community fight coronavirus.

Read more: Pakistani family distributes free masks in Hong Kong to fight coronavirus

To meet the increased demand following the panic on coronavirus, the family distributed thousands of free masks, gloves, and other sanitary products among people.

“The people will avoid you in pubic if you aren’t wearing a mask,” said Shiraz Jahangir, a salesman at Lala Al-Sheikh Trading Company, to Al-Jazeera.

Criticism over Hong Kong extending lockdown

Chan dispelled concerns that the ban on public gatherings was extended in view of growing protests against a new Chinese national security law.

“What has been discussed in the [Executive Council] this morning, in terms of the legislation and also the different extensions, is really based on public health grounds,” she stressed.

These criticisms come after a development that happens to be the first true manifestation of the new Hong Kong security law, police on Monday banned an upcoming vigil marking the Tiananmen crackdown anniversary citing the coronavirus pandemic, the first time the gathering has been halted in three decades. The Tiananmen Vigil is held every year to commemorate those Chinese lost in the quest for democracy, and is a sensitive issue for Hong Kongers.

Read more: Tiananmen vigil banned in Hong Kong for the first time in three decades

But police rejected permission for this year’s rally saying it would “constitute a major threat to the life and health of the general public”, according to a letter of objection to organisers obtained by AFP.

However, Hong Kong has managed to keep the virus mostly in check, with just over 1,000 infections.

Meeting between Hong Kong and central government over new law 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam will travel to Beijing on Wednesday. She will be joined by the secretary for security and police commissioner in meetings with the central government.

The focus of discussions will be the new national security law passed by China last week, which has drawn criticism from several western countries led by the US.

The new law, passed under Article 23 of Hong Kong Basic Law (Constitution), will criminalize those undermining the authority of Beijing in Hong Kong.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Lam criticized Washington’s “double standards” and said the US would only hurt its own interests if it acted on the threat to sanction Hong Kong.

“For some countries that have had a high-profile response and claimed they will take action, I can only describe them as upholding double standards,” the South China Morning Post quoted the chief executive as saying.

“They value very much their own national security, but are biased in viewing ours … There are riots in the United States and we see how local governments reacted. And then in Hong Kong, when we had similar riots, we saw what position they adopted.”

Protest in Hong Kong 

Hong Kong police fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse thousands protesting on Sunday against Beijing’s plan to directly impose national security laws on the city, the biggest flare-up in the city since Covid-19 lockdowns began.

The demonstrations come amid concerns over the fate of the “one country, two systems” formula that has governed Hong Kong since the former UK colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. The arrangement guarantees the city broad freedoms not seen on the mainland, including a free press and independent judiciary.

They fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds amid chaotic scenes that evoked memories of sometimes violent anti-government protests that roiled the city last year, drawing as many as two million people. Some protesters tried to set up roadblocks.

Many feel that the real reason for Hong Kong extending the coronavirus lockdown is to curb these protests. 

Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk