Hong Kong bans public gatherings of more than four people

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a news conference, in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam banned public gatherings of more than four people on Friday, hours after the Asian financial hub reported 65 new cases of coronavirus infections, its biggest daily increase so far.

The measures will be in place for 14 days, starting from March 29. Other regulations to be implemented included requiring restaurants to operate at half their capacity and to set tables at least 1.5 metres apart.

The ban on public gatherings includes both indoor and outdoor venues. Game centres, gyms, cinemas and other places of amusement and public entertainment are also required to close for two weeks starting from Saturday.

"We have to use stringent measures to prohibit, reduce or even impede public gathering activities," Lam said

The restrictions would hit the entertainment and leisure industries, Lam said, adding that the government has pledged financial support to affected employees. Further details will be announced later.

Hong Kong has witnessed a surge in people returning home since last week as they flee coronavirus outbreaks in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

The former British colony has 518 cases and four deaths so far. It has had some success in reining in the spread of the coronavirus; the majority of recent cases were contracted overseas or by people who had close contact with travellers.

(Reporting by Twinnie Siu and Felix Tam; writing by Farah Master; editing by Edmund Blair, Larry King)