People wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak walk at a shopping mall in Hong Kong, July 20, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)
Hong Kong saw a record daily number of 118 new coronavirus cases on Thursday — also the first time the city has seen back-to-back days of triple-digit new infections — as health officials warned the escalating trend is not yet over.
Continuing the alarming third wave of the local COVID-19 outbreak, Thursday's new infections included a record high of 111 locally transmitted cases, more than 40 of which could not be traced, said Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection, at a daily COVID-19 briefing.
The latest figures came after the city reported 113 infections on Wednesday. Hong Kong's overall case tally now stands at 2,249. Chuang said about 80 other patients tested preliminarily positive on Thursday.
The city's 15th coronavirus-related fatality was also reported after a 63-year-old man died at Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Thursday.
The patient, who had a history of chronic illness, was hospitalized on July 14. The Hospital Authority said 33 patients were in critical condition.
According to Chuang, the new patients included at least six people with ties to several restaurants in Tsz Wan Shan, the city's hardest-hit neighborhood in the latest outbreak. From July 16-23, 592 local cases were confirmed, as clusters continued to expand at restaurants, hospitals and elderly-care centers.
Warning that the community outbreak may continue to escalate, Undersecretary for Food and Health Chui Tak-yi urged the public, especially senior residents and those with health problems, to stay at home as much as possible to ease the pressure on the city's public hospitals.
Starting Friday, Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village in Chai Wan will be used to treat COVID-19 patients who are under 50 and in stable condition.
The resort used to be one of the quarantine centers to accommodate close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 patients and inbound travelers from high-risk areas.
The Hospital Authority said the site can provide up to 350 units to ease the strain on public hospitals' second-tier isolation wards.
The first batch of 30 stable patients are expected to be taken to the resort on Friday.
As of Thursday, nearly 75 percent of isolation beds had been used, close to a breaking point at 80 percent, as the authority said 20 percent of the slots should be reserved for emergencies.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government hasn't ruled out applying more stringent social distancing rules if the local outbreak continues to worsen.
The work-from-home arrangement for civil servants was extended to Aug 2, according to an announcement on Thursday shortly before an immigration officer and a police officer were found to be infected. The government will provide only essential and emergency services during this period.
Speaking on a public radio program on Thursday, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said if the situation does not improve, the government may impose a blanket ban on dine-in service at restaurants and require people to wear face masks in more places other than indoor public venues and transportation interchanges.