People at a train station in Kowloon Tong. Photo: Asia Times

Hong Kong’s restaurants and shops saw a rebound in revenue during the Easter holidays after the government eased some of its epidemic rules last week.

Between April 2 and 6, the dining sector recorded daily revenue of about HK$320 million (US$41.1 million), compared with HK$350 million in the same period of 2019, said Wong Ka-wo, President of Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades.

The revenue level was about 30-40% higher than the same period of last year when the city was hit by the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic, Wong said.

Wong Ka-wo, President of Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades. Photo: Jeff Pao

Many people dined out during the holidays as the local epidemic situation improved while they could not travel overseas or to the mainland due to quarantine measures, Wong said. Restaurants had not yet recruited new employees as they were worried that the anti-epidemic rules would be tightened again, he added.

Wong said the dining sector hoped the epidemic situation would remain stable in coming weeks so they could survive through to the next high season on May 9, which marks Mother’s Day.

Simon Wong Kit-Lung, chairperson and chief executive of LH Group, a restaurant chain in Hong Kong, told RTHK that it was surprising that restaurants’ revenue could return to 80-90% of the level in 2019, although the social distancing rules for the dining sector had remained tough.

From February 18, restaurants have been allowed to provide dine-in services until 10pm, while a maximum of four people, instead of two people, would be able to sit together at one table in a restaurant.

As there were only a few local infections reported in late March, the government announced last week that cinemas and theaters could be 75% full from April 1, compared with the then cap of 50%. Swimming pools and beaches would reopen.

Crowds were seen in beaches and tourist sites such as Cheung Chau and Peng Chau. Many families spent their holidays with their tents in the public areas in the West Kowloon Cultural District, the Central and Western District Promenade and Tamar Park.

Hong Kong’s shoppers buy more necessities, but not luxury goods. Photo: Asia Times

According to the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, people have become cautious in spending their money amid the pandemic, but are still willing to buy home appliances and necessities. Sales of these products grew in early April from the same period in February and March.

Jimmy Tang, group chairman and chief executive of Prince Jewellery & Watch, said his stores’ overall revenue grew 20-30% during this Easter holiday from the same period last year.

Tang said jewelry products below HK$100,000 were welcomed by shoppers than the more expensive ones. He said local shoppers had started returning to the market, while it would take some time before foreign and mainland tourists could come back.

On February 24, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said the government would offer HK$5,000 worth of “electronic consumption vouchers” to Hong Kong’s permanent residents and new immigrants aged 18 or above in the summer. It is expected the retail sector would see a boost by then.

Slow recovery in Macau

Since last September, Macau and the mainland have allowed quarantine-free travel between the two places. 

In Macau, total revenue in the gaming sector rose to 8.31 billion Macau patacas (US$1.04 billion) in March, up 13.6% from February or up 58% from a year ago, according to the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau.

Hoffman Ma, executive director and deputy chairman of Success Universe Group Ltd, said the gaming sector would probably see another 10% month-on-month revenue growth in April as more and more mainland tourists would visit Macau.

However, Ma added that Macau’s dining and retail sectors did not see a significant boost during the Easter holidays as Hongkongers were not allowed to visit the gaming city without quarantine. He said the occupancy rate in Macau’s hotels reached 80-90% during weekends, compared with 50% on weekdays, after room rates were halved.

Fong Kin-fu, a vice-president of The United Association of Food and Beverage Merchants of Macau, said restaurants at tourist areas in Macau reached 40-50% of the normal level, thanks to mainland tourists. He said restaurants in residential areas did not see a boost during the Easter holidays as some Macanese traveled to the mainland.

Some newspapers also reported that some luxury shops in Macau had benefited from the influx of mainland visitors in March and April, but sales of souvenirs and egg-rolls remained stagnant at about 50% of the normal level.

This year’s Easter holidays were longer than the usual ones as they included the Ching Ming Festival, a traditional tomb-sweeping day.

Covid situation

Meanwhile, two people who lived in Tuen Man in Hong Kong tested positive to Covid separately, said the Center for Health Protection on Wednesday. They involve a 41-year-old man at Shan Kin Estate and a 71-year-old woman at Yau Oi Estate. Another 70-year-old woman at Yau Oi Estate tested positive preliminarily.

“We cannot find any exact linkage between these three cases yet. For the two cases who stay in the same building, one of them did not go out. So it is possible that her family members or a friend who visited her during the incubation period may be a case,” said Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection.

“We’re tracing if they’re confirmed, whether there’s any common exposure between, for example, a case and another case. Possible areas may be the nearby malls or markets and so on,” said Chuang.

Mutant variant

Six imported cases were also recorded. They involve people who flew in from the Philippines, Egypt, India and Pakistan.

As of Tuesday, a total of 173 incoming travelers were identified as infected with the N501Y mutant variant in Hong Kong and 42% of them came from the Philippines. The Center for Health Protection said the government was considering a ban on all flights from countries such as the Philippines and India to keep the Covid-19 variant out.

David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said such a ban would minimize the risk to the community but affect many Hong Kong families who rely on foreign domestic workers. Hui said authorities could consider making vaccinations compulsory for domestic workers before they arrive.

Teresa Liu, chairwoman of the Association of Hong Kong Manpower Agencies, said her group would discuss with the Philippine government whether helpers could get priority for inoculation. Liu said Hong Kong employers would be willing to pay for the jabs if the 21-day hotel quarantine for helpers would be shortened.

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