Hong Kong’s government said it has decided to tighten the city’s recently eased social-distancing measures after dozens of “third-wave” infections were identified on Thursday.
Officials said restrictions will be reimposed on restaurants – seating will be limited to 60% of capacity and only eight customers will be permitted per table.
Bars and pubs can sit only four per table, and the number of people allowed to gather at venues where people don’t always wear face masks – such as karaokes, gyms and party rooms – will be halved to eight from 16.
Nightclubs can only run at 60% of capacity, with the maximum number of customers per table decreasing from eight to four, and all food and drink will be banned at cinemas.
The new tightened restrictions will be implemented on Saturday, and remain for two weeks unless extended.
The government did not announce the suspension of classes as local schools will begin their summer holidays soon.
Gordon Lam, the head of the Small and Medium Restaurant Federation, told RTHK that restaurants now have to “pay the price” for the government’s failure to curb the epidemic.
Tommy Cheung, a lawmaker representing the catering sector, said the new curbs will be a setback, adding that the administration will again need to look at helping the sector. Cheung said he had heard reports that a few restaurants had already seen cancellations after new local cases recently began to emerge.
On Thursday, Hong Kong recorded 34 more local infections, along with eight imported ones. On Wednesday, the city recorded 19 local infections and five imported ones.
Nine local cases identified on Thursday were linked to previously confirmed patients, and three were taxi drivers. Authorities have been unable to trace the source of two local infections. Twenty-three patients were linked to an outbreak at an elderly care home, Kong Tai Care for the Aged Centre, in Tsz Wan Shan.
Of the 37 elderly people in the facility, 28 tested positive for the coronavirus while the remaining nine were negative. Four staff were infected.
With Covid-19 continuing to afflict the entire world, the virus won’t suddenly disappear, nor can Hong Kong expect to have zero cases for an extended period of time – at least until an effective vaccine is developed, Sophia Chan, secretary for food and health, said in a press conference on Thursday.
“Due to the suppress-and-lift strategy, now it is the time for us to suppress. And the focus of the suppression is really on mask-off activities,” said Chan. “We understand from the recent clusters and also confirmed cases that a number of them are from the catering business.”
Chan said the authorities will also be expanding the city’s testing capacity, focusing on groups that have recently seen a surge in cases, including elderly people and staff at care homes, catering workers, and public transport drivers.
On Wednesday, five new imported cases were reported. Two of those infected were from India, two were marine workers from the Philippines, and the fifth was a visitor from Kazakhstan.
On Thursday, the eight imported cases included five men and one newborn from Kazakhstan, two Filipino domestic workers and one man from Pakistan. This brings the total number of cases recorded in Hong Kong to 1,366.
On Tuesday, Chan said foreign domestic helpers will need to test negative for Covid-19 before they’re allowed to enter Hong Kong, and they will also have to undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days at a hotel. She said their employers would have to pay for their testing and hotel accommodation.