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 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.
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 on Wednesday, Ms Lam said the city was on the verge of a “large-scale outbreak”, which could cause hospitals to “collapse”.
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.