On Friday evening chief executive Carrie Lam, a pro-Beijing appointee, announced that September elections for the city's legislature would need to be delayed
Hong Kong's democracy supporters were dealt a huge blow on Friday as authorities postponed local elections because of the coronavirus, capping a devastating month of political disqualifications, arrests for social media posts and activists fleeing overseas.
The city's democracy camp has come under sustained attack since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the city last month -- a move China's leaders described as a "sword" hanging over the head of its critics.
The ensuing weeks have radically transformed a city used to speaking its mind and supposedly guaranteed certain freedoms and autonomy in a "One Country, Two Systems" deal agreed ahead of its 1997 handover from Britain.
On Friday evening chief executive Carrie Lam, a pro-Beijing appointee, announced that September elections for the city's legislature would need to be delayed.
She described the announcement as the "most difficult decision" she has made since the pandemic began and that Beijing supported the move.
The decision will infuriate democracy supporters who had warned against any moves to delay the polls, accusing authorities of using the pandemic to avoid a drubbing at the ballot box.
It also came a day after a dozen prominent democracy activists were barred from standing for election because their political views were deemed to be unacceptable.
"Our resistance will continue on and we hope the world can stand with us in the upcoming uphill battle," Joshua Wong, one of the city's most recognisable democracy figures, told reporters Friday before the elections were postponed.
Wong was one of those disqualified, along with other young firebrand activists and some older, more moderate democracy campaigners.
Banned political views
Hong Kong is not a democracy -- its leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees.
But half of its legislature's 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city's 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.
Planning to capitalise on last year's huge and often violent anti-Beijing protests, democracy activists had been hoping to win their first-ever majority in September.
But officials have begun scrubbing ballot lists of candidates.
Examples given by authorities of unacceptable political views have included criticising a new security law imposed by Beijing, campaigning to win a legislation-blocking majority and refusing to recognize China's sovereignty.
Earlier in the day a coalition of democracy parties warned any bid to delay the elections would be herald "the complete collapse of our constitutional system.
Around half of Hong Kong's 3,100 Covid-19 cases have been detected in the past month and authorities fear hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed.
According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, at least 68 elections worldwide have been postponed because of the virus, while 49 went ahead.