A 45-year-old domestic worker is identified as a Covid-19 patient in Comfort Gardens in Fortress Hill. Photo: Google Maps

The Hong Kong government loosened its anti-epidemic rules Tuesday after infections in the city fell to a single digit.

From Friday, dine-in services will be allowed at restaurants until 9pm, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said. Currently, restaurants may provide only takeaways after 6pm.

“And why 9pm and not 10, not 11, I think it is because we want to shorten the time people have for mask-off activities, but then balancing it with the need,” she said. “So therefore, we think probably 9pm and not later is appropriate in this context.”

Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said the catering sector welcomed the extension of the hours. It would help restaurants increase revenue to about 60 to 70% of normal.

Many people prefer takeaway food during the Covid-19 epidemic. Photo: Asia Times

Chan said beauty parlours, some outdoor sports venues and entertainment venues such as cinemas will reopen.

People who exercise outdoors will be exempt from wearing masks, she said. The mask rule will also cease to apply in country parks.

“When people are trying to go out and resume some of these activities, they also have to take precautions themselves,” Chan said.

Gordon Wong of the Asian Academy For Sports and Fitness Professionals said it was disappointing that gym centers would not be allowed to reopen from Friday. He said gym operators were willing to adopt more precautionary measures to resume operations. He suggested that one-on-one fitness training be resumed first.

Separately, the Trade Development Council (TDC) said the Hong Kong Book Fair, which was called off in July due to the so-called third wave epidemic, would be held from December 16 to 22 at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. The TDC said it would conduct an assessment in November on whether the fair should proceed.

The Center for Health Protection said that during the 24 hours on Sunday, only nine cases were reported, the lowest since the beginning of July. It has returned to single-digits for the first time in more than a month and a half.

The city recorded 19 cases within the 24 hours on Monday, including three imported cases, eight cases that could be linked to previous cases and eight cases with unknown sources. More than 20 people, including five in a hostel for mentally handicapped people, a hospital staff member and a paramedic, preliminarily tested positive on Tuesday.

The number of Covid-19 cases recorded in Hong Kong now stands at 4,710.

Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Center for Health Protection said the trend is on the decline but she hoped the public would continue to wear masks at outdoor environment and avoid unnecessary gatherings.

There was still “silent transmission” within the community and the number of cases would fluctuate daily.

Any relaxation of social-distancing measures may result in more cases, but whether to relax social distancing rules involves considerations other than health measures, Chuang said.

Joseph Tsang Kay-yan, a specialist in infectious disease, said the government should not relax social distancing measures until mass testing in the community had been completed.

“I strongly urge the government to allow the cases come down first before they consider lifting up all these kinds of social distancing measures. It is more reasonable to do it in this way, otherwise the government will be very embarrassed,” he said.

Tsang said he expected to see around 20 cases a day in September, with about half picked up by mass testing.

The government has recently announced that mass testing will begin on September 1, aiming to find most of the asymptomatic patients.

Currently, an outdoor gathering with more than two people is banned, unless they are family members. On Sunday, nine domestic workers were fined HK$2,000 (US$258) each for violating social-distancing in Lo Tak Court in Tsuen Wan. Another domestic worker was fined HK$5,000 for violating the mandatory mask rule. 

Read: Hong Kong to roll out virus tests for everyone

Read: Covid-19 gives HK commercial property the shivers