A man eats a takeaway meal on a chair placed outside a restaurant in the Kowloon-side Sham Shui Po district of Hong Kong in the early morning of July 29, 2020, as new social distancing measures come into effect which include restaurants only being allowed to serve takeaway meals, to combat a new wave of coronavirus infections.

Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

Hong Kong is on the cusp of a large-scale coronavirus outbreak that may overload its health-care facilities and cost lives, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday as new social distancing measures took effect.

In a prerecorded video address late Tuesday, Lam said there has been an “upsurge” in local infections, and there are “many with yet unknown sources.” Confirmed cases in Hong Kong soared in July, with a new daily high of 145 reported this week.

Also on Tuesday, authorities said they were investigating 106 new cases, bringing the total number to at least 2,884.

“We are on the verge of a large-scale community outbreak, which may lead to a collapse of our hospital system and cost lives, especially of the elderly,” the chief executive said.

Hong Kong was initially able to contain the virus despite being relatively close to the city of Wuhan in China, where infections were first detected in 2019. It was able to avoid imposing a lockdown while many other countries imposed restrictive social distancing measures, and even reopened Disneyland Hong Kong in mid-June. 

However, new and stricter social distancing rules take effect in the city today, with a ban on gatherings of more than two people and the suspension of dine-in services.

Lam called on citizens to cooperate in order to protect the city. “I appeal to you to follow strictly the social distancing measures and stay at home as far as possible. If we stand united and work together, we can suppress this epidemic again.”

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