A restaurant in Tseung Kwan O in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times

The Hong Kong government should maintain anti-epidemic rules at restaurants for the moment because the coronavirus transmission chain has not yet been cut off, medical experts say.

On Monday, Hong Kong recorded 10 cases, comprising seven imported and three local infections, which could be linked to previous cases. One local case involved a year-old boy. On Saturday, the city saw only one imported cases. But on Sunday, it reported six, including five imported cases and one local infection with an unknown source.

A 22-year-old man who worked in a construction site in Kai Tai developed symptoms on September 24 and sought medical treatment the following day. He tested positive on Saturday. Nine colleagues were sent to a quarantine center. At least one colleague tested preliminarily positive while a third worker also reported feeling unwell. More than 500 people at the site were required to submit saliva samples for testing.

The colleagues could have caught the virus in the staff common room, just like a cluster at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminal last month in which dozens of workers were infected, said David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This case showed that there was still silent transmission within the community, Hui said, adding that dining restrictions should not be relaxed for the time being.

Currently, restaurants must have no more than four people per table and can only use 50% of their tables and open until midnight. The requirements will remain effective at least until Thursday, which is China’s National Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival. However, some restaurants have used all their tables as they say they fear being ordered to close again when the “fourth wave” strikes in winter.

Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said restaurants hoped the restrictions would be relaxed from Friday because October to December was usually an industry high season.

Ben Leung, convenor of the Licensed Bar & Club Association of Hong Kong, said many bars could only have their revenue back to 30 to 40% of normal though they were allowed to reopen earlier this month. Leung said bars hoped that they could be allowed to open after midnight.

Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the advisory committee on communicable diseases of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said the maximum number of people per table could be increased to six to eight as the risks of spreading the virus in family gatherings at restaurants were roughly the same as at home. However, Leung said it was important to forbid restaurants to use more than half of their tables before the city could achieve zero local cases for 14 consecutive days.

Meanwhile, pro-establishment lawmakers on Monday urged the government to launch the health code in the next few days so that people could cross the border and travel to Macau or Guangdong for Mid-Autumn and National Day celebrations.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said the chances of the authorities rolling out the health code by Thursday remained small. However, he added that government was aiming to reopen the borders as soon as the coronavirus situation in Hong Kong came under control.

He said that when the government did roll out the health code, the first phase would cover family visits and business travelers instead of cross-border tourists.

The Legislative Council’s Finance Committee approved HK$24 billion (US$3.1 billion) for the third round of the government’s anti-epidemic fund at the end of a two-day debate, RTHK reported. Following 16 hours of deliberation, 37 lawmakers voted in support of the funding, while 23 were against it.

The government had said the money will be used to purchase vaccines and help sectors affected by the pandemic.

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