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HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Monday there were no current plans to further tighten strict social distancing measures as authorities battle to contain a deepening coronavirus outbreak which has submerged its health system and seen deaths soar.

Lam said there was limited room to tighten further, with the global financial hub already having put in place the strictest measures since its COVID strategy began in 2020. Gatherings of more than two people are banned, most venues are shut - including schools - and masks are compulsory everywhere, even when exercising outdoors.

“The government has to be very careful before tightening social distancing measures further … with the need to consider the mental health of citizens,” she told a daily press briefing.

Millions locked down as China wrestles worst virus outbreak in two years

Lam said last week that the city government had no time frame for a potential compulsory mass testing of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million residents.

Hong Kong has reported more than 700,000 infections and about 4,000 deaths, most of them taking place in the past three weeks. The former British colony has followed mainland China’s ‘dynamic zero’ COVID strategy which seeks to curb all outbreaks as soon as they occur.

The Chinese-ruled territory has had its borders effectively sealed for two years with few flights able to land here and most transit passengers banned.

But deaths have spiked, particularly amongst its mostly unvaccinated elderly, with the city registering the most deaths per million people globally in the week to March 10, according to data publication Our World in Data.

Lam’s comments came after China reported a surge in new local coronavirus cases on Sunday, more than triple the caseload of the previous day, and the highest in about two years.

Some mainland Chinese internet users took to social media platforms to express anger at Hong Kong, saying it has failed to control its coronanvirus outbreak and blaming the hub for causing the country’s latest spike in infections.

“Shenzhen people have been scolding Hong Kong every day for the past month. It’s very clear that it has caused so much trouble for others,” said one internet user, called Chen Shui, posting on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

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