Hong Kong is on the verge of a "large-scale" outbreak that could collapse hospitals, warned leader Carrie Lam on Wednesday as strict new measures were implemented to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Hong Kong's new social distancing regulations mean restaurants can only serve take-out meals and the 7.5 million residents must wear masks when they leave their homes.
No more than two people from different households can gather in public with fines of up to $HK5,000 (532 euros) if they break the new emergency rules.
"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," Lam said in a statement released on Wednesday to coincide with the new measures.
"In order to protect our loved ones, our healthcare staff and Hong Kong, I appeal to you to follow strictly the social distancing measures and stay at home as far as possible," she added.
Hong Kong reported more than 1,000 new infections since early July, which is more than 40 percent of the total since the virus first hit the city in late January.
New daily infections have been above 100 for the last six days.
Hong Kong was seen as a success story for how it controlled the outbreak at the beginning of the year, which was helped by the public embracing face masks and an efficient track and trace programme.
Some have blamed the new uptick in cases on exemptions from the usual 14-day quarantine which the government granted to "essential personnel", including cross-boundary truckers, air and sea crew and some manufacturing executives.
China and South Korea also reported an increase in COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. China said it had 101 new cases, its highest daily increase in weeks. The majority of the infections were from the northwestern Xinjiang region.
Meanwhile, South Korea reported 48 additional cases. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday the additional figures took the country’s total to 14,251 with 300 deaths. South Korea has been reporting roughly 20-60 new cases every day since it eased its strict social distancing rules in early May.