The Hong Kong government has postponed September’s parliamentary elections by a year, saying it is necessary amid a rise in coronavirus infections.
Hong Kong is currently experiencing a spike in Covid-19 infections, and reported 121 new cases on Friday.
However, the opposition has accused the government of using the pandemic as a pretext to stop people from voting.
On Thursday, the government banned 12 pro-democracy candidates from running in the elections.
Opposition activists had hoped to obtain a majority in the Legislative Council (LegCo) in September’s poll, capitalising on anger at Beijing’s imposition of a controversial national security law in Hong Kong, and fears that the territory’s freedoms are being eroded.
Pro-democracy candidates had made unprecedented gains in last year’s district council elections, winning 17 out of 18 councils.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would invoke emergency powers to postpone the elections, calling it the “most difficult decision I’ve made over the past seven months”.
“This postponement is entirely made based on public safety reasons, there were no political considerations,” she said.
Separately on Friday, Hong Kong police put six overseas activists on a wanted list, on suspicion of violating the new national security law, media reports said.
Among them are high-profile activist Nathan Law, who has fled to the UK, and Simon Cheng, a former employee of the UK’s Hong Kong consulate who alleges he was tortured in China and was recently granted political asylum in Britain.
Hong Kong has had more than 100 daily new cases, for 10 days in a row.
The overall numbers are still lower than those of many other places – but the spike comes after Hong Kong appeared to have contained the outbreak, with weeks of few or no local infections.
Now, it’s experiencing what’s been described as a “third wave” of infections, and Ms Lam says she fears Hong Kong’s hospitals will be overwhelmed by new cases.
Health experts have told the BBC that, with the reintroduction of social distancing measures, the rate of infection appears to have slowed, and they hope Hong Kong will be back to close to zero local infections within four to six weeks.
The city has introduced tough new measures to combat the virus, banning gatherings of more than two people. -BBC