Bars and pubs in Soho, one of Hong Kong's most vibrant nightlife hubs. Photo: AFP/EyePress/Arthur Lui

Hong Kong will shut down bars, party rooms and clubhouses from Thursday after 187 patients were identified in the city’s biggest cluster, linked with 21 dance clubs.

Premises that have live performances and dancing will also be closed for at least a week, Sophia Chan, the Secretary for Food and Health, said on Tuesday.

Restaurants could provide up to 10 tables with four customers at each, and could use only 50% of their capacity, Chan said. Government departments could allow some civil servants to work from home or have flexible work schedules. Private companies were urged to follow suit.

The Center for Health Protection said 80 cases were recorded, including 11 imported cases and 69 local infections, within the 24 hours on Monday. Of the local patients, 54 were related to the “dance club cluster,” which has surpassed the “bar cluster” identified in Lan Kwai Fong in March and April to become the biggest infected group in Hong Kong.

On Sunday, 73 new cases were reported, including 10 imported ones, 53 that could be linked to previous cases and 10 with unknown sources, said the Center.

Due to the surge, the Trade Development Council said the annual Book Fair would not take place on December 16. The event was originally scheduled to take place in July but was delayed to December for public health reasons.

Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said as local infections had increased rapidly over the past week, all classes in schools should be suspended while most civil servants should be allowed to work from home. Leung said all sport and entertainment premises should be closed.

However, Chan said the government had no plan to extend class suspensions to primary 4-6 pupils and secondary students. Instead, the government would force restaurants and other premises to sign up for its coronavirus contact-tracing app called “LeaveHomeSafe.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said people would be free to choose not to eat at restaurants or use other premises covered by the LeaveHomeSafe scheme.

“After adding this QR code, it doesn’t mean all customers will use it. We hope, initially, that this would be on a voluntary basis,” Lam said. “But if necessary, we could require people entering these places to use the app and record their whereabouts.”

Lam also criticized people who hadn’t been following pandemic restrictions, saying videos of people dancing without masks were being shared online. She said these people appeared to have made the current wave of infections worse.

The “dance club cluster” was identified last week after a 75-year-old businesswoman who visited the Starlight Dance Club in Wan Chai on November 14 tested positive. As of Tuesday, the number of patients related to the cluster has grown to 187 as some infected teachers had been to other dance clubs.

On Sunday, a video was uploaded to the Internet, showing more than a hundred unmasked people dancing at the Kwan Ho Seafood Restaurant in a birthday party on November 14. Netizens criticized the participants, who were mostly local women in their 60s and 70s, for spreading the virus by dancing without masks.

Simon Hung, a secondary school teacher, said it was unfair that school pupils were forced to stay home and study online while elderly women could enjoy hot-dances with young teachers without wearing masks. Hung asked why these dance club students did not take their classes online.

Sam Ng, a dancesport athlete in Hong Kong, said in an article that people who like to dance should not be blamed for the recent virus outbreak while elderly people should also not be shamed for dancing. Ng said those who violated the anti-epidemic rules were only a small group of people. He said the loophole of the city’s anti-epidemic rules should be blamed.

A blogger called Edkin wrote that actually netizens did not feel frustrated about the dance club members but the government’s different standards in law enforcement. He said a lot of people had been fined by the police for violating social distancing and mandatory mask-wearing rules but a large amount of unmasked people could freely throw parties.

George Yip, president of the Hong Kong DanceSport Association, told RTHK that the association only monitored dancing activities for sport and performing purposes but not for entertaining purposes. Yip said those who enjoy dancing as a hobby usually went to clubhouses or restaurants’ ballrooms, which were small and crowded.

Apart from the “dance club cluster,” 10 cases with unknown sources were reported on Tuesday, it said. A 38-year-old domestic worker, who lived on Hong Kong Island, developed illness symptoms on Saturday and tested positive on Monday. Other patients included a 47-year-old female employee in a restaurant in Tai Wai and a 63-year-old security guard in Cheung Sha Wan.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said the patients who had unknown sources were located at different districts in the city, including Shatin, Tuen Mun, Tseung Kwan O and North Point.

Read: School students to stay home as fourth wave hits HK