The large number of infections in older people suggests that restaurants are sources of the virus. Photo: Asia Times

The number of local Hong Kong infections hit a record high for the 24 hours on Thursday because many patients could have been infected in wet markets and Chinese restaurants, health officials said.

“A lot of cases with unknown sources involve housewives and elderly people, who don’t have a lot of social gatherings but go to wet markets and Chinese restaurants every day,” Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said on Friday.

Many wet markets are crowded with poor ventilation while some vendors hawk loudly without masks, Chuang said. The frequent exchange of money can enhance virus transmission.

As there are quite a lot of asymptomatic patients in the community, it will be good if people can go to wet markets and Chinese restaurants less often in the coming two weeks, she said.

From July 15, restaurants were ordered by the government to reduce the number of their tables by half, forbid more than four people sharing one table and provide only takeaway food between 6pm and 5am. Twelve kinds of premise including karaoke, party rooms and massage parlors were also shut down.

Ho Pak-leung, head of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection, called for a total ban on dine-in services. He said people in all public areas should wear masks.

Sophia Chan, Secretary for Food and Health, said Thursday that the government would ban daytime dine-in services if the epidemic situation does not improve. She said allowing daytime dine-in services was for workers’ convenience.

From Thursday, mask-wearing has become mandatory in all public indoor places. People need not wear masks outdoors.

On Friday, the Centre for Health Protection said the number of cases was 123, including eight imported cases, 63 local infections that could be linked to previous cases and 52 local cases with unknown sources, during the 24 hours on Thursday. There were about 100 preliminary confirmed cases.

It was very hard to trace all their contacts because the infected people had many social activities, Chuang said. Virus transmission would be slowed down only if people stayed at home and reduced non-essential meetings in the coming two weeks.

On Friday noon, a rumor was being shared among pro-Beijing citizens over WhatsApp that the Hong Kong government would completely lock down the city for seven days from July 27, close the stock markets for the week and reduce public services and necessity supplies. It cited Holden Chow, a lawmaker of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and claimed that it was an exclusive news from HK01.com.

Within hours, the government issued a clarification and said it had no plan to lock down the city. It condemned those who spread the rumor. Chow also said he would call the police because some people were spreading fake news. HK01.com said it would reserve its legal rights to call the rumor spreaders to account.

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