A microphone in a karaoke club. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Fæ

Karaoke and mahjong parlors will be shut down for 14 days to help stop the spread of Covid-19, the Hong Kong government announced on Wednesday.

From 6pm Wednesday, karaoke, nightclubs, mahjong parlors will be shut down by the government for 14 days. A person must wear a mask at any time where practicable within clubhouses, massage and beauty parlors.

From 6pm last Saturday, catering premises were ordered to reduce the number of tables so the number of customers would not exceed 50% of the normal level at any one time, the government said last Friday. Six kinds of premises were ordered to stop providing services for 14 days. They included bathhouses, fitness centres, party rooms and places of amusement and public entertainment.

However, medical experts later found that karaokes and mahjong parlors were not included in the list of places ordered closed.

Five people from a group of seven who went to karaoke together in the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of Red MR on March 24 were diagnosed with coronavirus, the Center for Health Protection said Tuesday. The remaining two in the group were also identified as infected on Wednesday.

Prior to the Hong Kong government’s latest move to shut down karaoke and mahjong parlors, Ronny Tong, an Executive Council member, said officials had explained to him that the two premises were not closed because they are regulated under a different licensing system. Tong added that venues that are considered high-risk should be closed or regulated with stricter measures nevertheless.

All types of entertainment venues should be covered, Derrick Au, a former director of quality and safety at the Hospital Authority, said in an interview with RTHK. Karaoke and mahjong parlors are a “visible omission” of the protection firewall, he said.

“If we feel quite clearly that gatherings or entertainment in an enclosed environment is quite a high-risk activity, there’s no particular reason why we have to wait and see what happens in the mahjong clubs and karaoke.”

Joseph Tsang Kay-yan, a private infectious disease doctor, said karaoke should be shut as the ventilation is poor in these places which are usually small. He said it is easy for the virus to be spread among people gathering in groups eating and having fun together.

As of 4pm on Tuesday, 32 additional confirmed cases of Covid-19 were recorded, bringing the total number of cases in Hong Kong to 715.

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