A 27-year-old patient visited the Olympia Hong Kong Hotel in West Kowloon on November 7, 2020. Photo: Google Maps

Hong Kong is to restrict gatherings and strengthen infection control in hotels and guesthouses due to an increasing “staycation” trend.

From Friday, hotels and guesthouses will be added to the list of scheduled premises under the Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation. Only four guests will be allowed in each hotel or guest room, except for those from the same household.

The government said there had recently been more staycations in hotels and guesthouses with many guests not wearing masks. It would amend the legislation to restrict gatherings and strengthen infection controls, as well as imposing legal responsibility on people who organize or participate in prohibited gatherings. 

Earlier, the Department of Health tightened the rules against visits to anyone under compulsory quarantine in hotels. If anyone confined needs goods or food, their friends, family or hotel staff can put it outside the guest’s room to be picked up without face-to-face contact.

Over the past month, dozens of Covid-19 patients were identified after staycations in Hong Kong. In one case, more than 30 unmasked people attended a birthday party in a hotel room. Health experts said participants in staycation groups could have been infected by incoming travelers who spent their 14-day quarantine in hotels.

Yiu Si-wing, a lawmaker representing the Functional Constituency – Tourism, said hotel operators had strictly implemented the social distancing rules since a couple of virus outbreaks in staycation groups were reported. Yiu said the new guest limit would let hotel staff handle disputes with staycation groups more easily.

Michael Li, secretariat executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said it was reasonable to forbid people from visiting anyone in hotel quarantine. But he said hotel operators should not be punished if they had exhausted all methods to monitor confinees who violated the rules.

Alex Tsui, chairman of the Hong Kong Hotel Employees Union, said it was unfair to blame the hotel sector for the recent virus outbreaks in the city. Tsui said due to financial difficulties, many hotels were understaffed and failed to prevent guests from violating quarantine rules. He said the government should deploy law enforcement officers and health officials to ensure public health in hotels.

Since February, Hong Kong’s hotel sector has been seriously hit by the Covid-19 epidemic due to a 99% year-on-year decline in mainland visitors. In April, Yiu said hotel occupancy had fallen to 10-20% while many guests stayed in hotels only to meet quarantine requirements.

After the government relaxed some social-distancing rules in late September, the occupation rates of local hotels rebounded to about 30-40% on weekdays and 40-50% on weekends. During the four-day holidays in early October, the rates rose to about 60-70% in most hotels while some high-end hotels were 70-80% occupied. Many hotels have offered discounts of up to 50%.

The Center for Health Protection said Thursday that 12 cases were recorded, eight imported and four local, in the 24 hours on Wednesday. Among those locally infected, two cases had no known source.

A 65-year-old retired woman, who lived in The Long Beach in Tai Kok Tsui, felt ill last Saturday and sought treatment on Monday. She tested positive on Wednesday. Another case involved a 75-year-old businesswoman who lived in Victoria Heights on Midlevels and worked in Central. She went the Starlight Dance Club in Wan Chai last Saturday. Five more people who had been to the same dance club tested positive preliminarily.

On Thursday, more than 20 people tested positive preliminarily. They included a 27-year-old man, who lived in Ho Man Tin and worked in construction in Yuen Long. He joined a staycation gathering at the Olympian Hong Kong Hotel in West Kowloon on November 7.

A 73-year-old man who lived in Shan King Estate in Tuen Mun was also found to be infected. His family member, aged 37, and seven other members of the Leung King Adult Training Centre will be sent to quarantine centers.

Other infected people included a 31-year-old foreigner, a 61-year-old security guard, a 63-year-old taxi driver and two housewives.

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