Hong Kong has given the green light to tour groups with up to 30 people and wedding ceremonies with up to 50 but is still limiting numbers at other gatherings to four.
Agencies that run tour groups would have to record personal information and contact details of travelers, check their temperature and ensure they wore masks at all times except when eating, Edward Yau, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, said on Tuesday.
“Tour agents, being the organizer of all these exempted tour groups, will take the extra step in protecting public health in minimizing the risks,” he said, adding that the Travel Industry Council would make sure the agencies complied with the rules.
From October 27, anyone who spent HK$800 (US$100) or more at designated retail and dining outlets can redeem a local tour for free, according to the Free Tour Program newly launched by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Initially there will be a quota of 10,000 for this program.
Curbs on weddings will be eased from Friday, with ceremonies accommodating a maximum of 50 people, up from 20 now. But no food or drinks will be allowed. Organizations and companies will be allowed to hold indoor meetings with up to 50 people from Friday. If participants in a meeting exceed 50, event organizers must arrange more rooms for the crowd.
Other social-distancing measures will be extended by a week, including a ban on gatherings of more than four people in public places and limited seating at bars and restaurants.
Asked why the government refused to allow protests with more than four people, Sophia Chan, the Secretary for Food and Health, said the government would not allow public gatherings with more than four people as it wanted to reduce the risks of virus spreading as much as possible.
“We still don’t want to see crowds gathering but the risks involving tour groups are manageable as the exemptions come with conditions,” Chan said.
She said many people were already out and about as the local outbreak eases, and regulating tour groups could help to mitigate health risks through, for example, the tracing of travelers. She said with a recent drop in new cases, easing restrictions would allow more social and economic activities to resume.
However, the Center for Health Protection said Tuesday that a local patient with an unknown source, together with four imported cases, was identified within the 24 hours on Monday. Hong Kong had not reported untraceable local infections during the three days ended Sunday.
The local case involved a 32-year-old woman who developed fever last Friday and visited a private clinic in Shau Kei Wan on Sunday. Following the doctor’s advice, she then went to a testing center in Yau Ma Tei and tested positive on Monday.
She lived in Tower 1, Grand Promenade in Sai Wan Ho with six family members, who are required to be quarantined. A hundred of the woman’s colleagues have to be tested. It was suspected that she could be a “superspreader” as she carried a high concentration of virus but had mild symptoms.
Meanwhile, the government said Tuesday that the unemployment rate had risen to 6.4%, the highest in about 16 years, with some sectors breaching levels seen during the SARS outbreak in 2003.
Between July and September, Hong Kong’s jobless rate had increased by 0.3 percentage points from the period between June and August. The figure stayed at around 2.9% last year. The jobless figure for sectors relating to consumption and tourism increased 11.7%. By the end of last month, the number out of work reached 259,800 while the city’s labour force was about 3.88 million.
“The labour market deteriorated for the third quarter of 2020 as a whole amid the third wave of the local epidemic, particularly in July and August,” said Law Chi-kwong, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare. “As the overall economic situation remains weak and the global pandemic is still evolving, the labour market will remain under pressure in the near term.”
The exhibition production industry said on Tuesday that around 150,000 people would lose their jobs as the pandemic had brought business for many firms to an abrupt halt for 10 months, with large-scale gatherings banned and global travel decimated.
Representatives of the industry said about 150 companies which build backdrops and booths for exhibitions were facing catastrophe as many exhibitors move their events online.
The government has earmarked HK$1.02 billion for the exhibition and convention sector under its pandemic relief measures. Exhibitors can apply for the subsidy if they have events. But without events they could not claim any subsidy, said Vincent Cheng, a lawmaker of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. The government could fine-tune its rules to support the sector, Cheng added.