Up until just recently, Hong Kong was being held up as one of the better examples of how to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Despite their physical attachment to the Chinese mainland and plenty of regular traffic moving in and out, the early, aggressive measures they took seemed to be working. It was the same regimen you’re hearing about around the globe these days… social distancing, frequent hand-washing, wearing masks and all the rest. But for them, it was unusually effective. Despite having a population of more than seven million crammed into a relatively small area, as of last week they had only identified roughly 150 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Now that’s changed. The number of cases has almost doubled in the past seven days. So what happened? As CNN describes it, they appear to have let their guard down too quickly.

Now, however, Hong Kong is providing a very different object lesson — what happens when you let your guard down too soon. The number of confirmed cases has almost doubled in the past week, with many imported from overseas, as Hong Kong residents who had left — either to work or study abroad, or to seek safety when the city seemed destined for a major outbreak earlier this year — return, bringing the virus back with them.

This is a pattern playing out across parts of Asia — mainland China, Singapore, Taiwan — that were among the first to tackle the outbreak. All are now introducing new measures as a renewed wave of cases begins to crest.

Compared to major cities in the West, like London or New York, residents in Hong Kong can sometimes feel as if they’re living in the future. Many of the measures enacted in the Asian metropolis back in February are now being rolled out in European and American cities.

This is something of a mixed message for the rest of the world, but it should provide a valuable (if costly) lesson. Even with a concentrated population, all of the measures we’ve been told to take to slow the spread of the disease can work. That’s the good news. But simply flattening the curve isn’t enough if you ease up too soon afterward or start allowing large numbers of people to return or visit.

The more we learn about this pandemic, the more obvious the lesson seems to become. Once there is an outbreak of this virus in a given area, if you can lock the population down to the point where nobody is coming into contact with anyone else, in a few weeks all of the infected people will either have fought off the disease or died. The outbreak is essentially “stopped.” But all of the rest of the people have no herd immunity to the virus so they’re still just as vulnerable. And all it takes is for one asymptomatic person to show up on the next bus and the process kicks off all over again.

Now Hong Kong is back where they were a few weeks ago. The precautions will have to be put back in place and the economy takes another hit. And from the look of things, that destructive cycle may well continue until we get either a vaccine or a cure. In the meantime, one of the new measures being introduced is a ban on the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants until further notice. They’re not closing the bars and restaurants. They’re just forbidding them from selling booze.

Hong Kong will ban restaurants and bars from selling alcohol, and most foreign visitors — including transit passengers — will be barred entry as part of the government’s latest measures to contain the second coronavirus wave following a recent surge in imported infections.

The sale of alcohol will be prohibited at the city’s roughly 8,600 licensed liquor premises after multiple coronavirus cases in the past week involved visitors to Lan Kwai Fong, a popular nightlife hub in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government would amend the law to enforce the alcohol ban, but she did not give a targeted effective date.

How exactly is a ban on alcoholic beverages going to combat the coronavirus? Carrie Lam explained it by saying, “People tend to have intimate contact when consuming liquor, as it’s considered a high-risk activity.”

I see. So you’re saying that people who go out drinking are more likely to hook up, thereby increasing the chances that they pass along the virus to their date? Okay… let’s go with that.

I’m old enough to remember when all of the news coming out of Hong Kong dealt with pro-democracy rallies and protests in the streets. The coronavirus seems to have put a quick end to that, unintentionally solving a big headache for Carrie Lam and distracting the Chinese government enough to stop threatening a forceful intervention to reestablish order. But much like the coronavirus itself, Chinese authoritarianism will come rushing back once this crisis is brought back under control.