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Hong Kong curbs karaoke, closes games centres after reporting 76 new COVID cases

Students enter into a makeshift community testing centre for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong tightened restrictions aimed at containing a rise in coronavirus cases on Monday, limiting gatherings to no more than two people, closing karaoke lounges and games centres and telling most civil servants to work from home.

The measures come in addition to restrictions announced on Sunday that will see all schools close for in-person learning for the rest of the year, also from Dec. 2.

Games centres, karaoke lounges and swimming pools will close from Wednesday and civil servants, excluding those that provide emergency services, will stay at home, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told reporters.

The Ocean Park theme park and DisneyLand will also close, said secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan.

“It will be very critical in the coming two weeks,” Lam said. “I hope that Hong Kong people can remain tolerant.”

Gyms and sports centres will remain open but only to a maximum of two people at a time, while massage and beauty salons will stay in operation, the government said.

Restaurant dine-in hours will be shortened to 10 p.m. from midnight, with no more than two people per table. A ban on gatherings will also be capped at two people, down from four.

Bars in Hong Kong are already shut, but some are trying to skirt the rules by placing plates and cutlery with customers under the pretence they are dining.

The global financial centre has so far managed to avoid the widespread outbreak of the disease seen in many major cities across the world, although the stop-start restrictions have caused frustration among some business owners and residents.

While there had been a ban on gatherings of more than four people, larger groups of residents have been widely seen together across the territory, especially on weekends and public holidays, although it’s rare to see anyone without a face mask.

Lam said there were 76 new cases on Monday, bringing the total in the city of 7.4 million to more than 6,300 since the epidemic started, with 109 deaths. Forty of the latest tally were related to dance clubs. The overall figure was lower than Sunday’s nearly four-month high of 115.

Lam said fines for breaches of the new rules could be doubled to at least HK$4,000 ($516).

The latest rise in cases has also led to the postponement for at least two weeks of a travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore – which was due to be launched on Nov. 22.

Having once had the highest COVID-19 rates in Southeast Asia, Singapore has all but eradicated the virus and has the world’s lowest fatality rate with just 28 deaths.

(Reporting by Clare Jim and Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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