From Friday, Hong Kong will allow bigger groups at public gatherings and places of entertainment, as the Covid-19 pandemic in the city stabilises with new infections remaining low.
The limit at both public gatherings and other activities, such as weddings and companies’ annual general meetings, will be raised to 50 people, from the current eight, the territory’s health authorities announced yesterday.
While there is no limit on group size at restaurants, those at karaoke lounges, party rooms, gaming centres and gyms, for instance, will be doubled from eight to 16.
Similarly, at nightclubs and bars, the group size will be doubled from four to eight.
This further easing of social distancing restrictions will be for two weeks, until July 2, for the authorities to monitor the situation, said Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan at the daily briefing.
At the same time, safe management measures will continue to be in effect, Professor Chan added.
For instance, people as well as tables in restaurants will have to be at least 1.5m apart as the chances of spreading the virus when speaking are high, she noted.
“It is a gradual sort of paving the way (to normalcy), so it will last for 14 days and in these 14 days, we will continue to monitor the situation and see if there is room for further lifting,” she said.
When asked about Beijing’s recent Covid-19 cluster in relation to Hong Kong’s border controls, Prof Chan said non-residents still cannot enter Hong Kong while its residents who have been to China, Macau and Taiwan will be quarantined for 14 days at a designated place.
Mr Howard Chan, her deputy, said the Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong governments are discussing ways to open their borders to allow travelling “in a limited way”.
Yesterday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting, said: “The public health or the epidemic situation is rather stable, but that doesn’t mean we need not be vigilant.”
Other cities which have re-opened have seen “a re-emergence of Covid-19 cases”, she noted as she reiterated the need for the government to strike a balance regarding public health concerns, impact on the economy and residents’ tolerance of the measures in place.
The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong stands at 1,113 yesterday, with 1,069 patients discharged from hospital.
From January till now, the government has conducted 2.9 million tests for the virus.
On Monday, Hong Kong Medical Association’s Dr Leung Chi Chiu said in a radio programme that restricting public gatherings to no more than eight people has outlived its purpose as bigger crowds are now seen in most public places.
At the same time, Chinese University’s Professor David Hui, who advises the government on its coronavirus measures, said recent infection clusters have been contained.
The easing of the measures comes amid renewed tensions over Beijing’s move to enact the national security law in the territory.
The pandemic had resulted in smaller-scale protests but news of the controversial national security law has fanned fears of more unrest in the city.
About 100 protesters yesterday gathered at a Causeway Bay mall during lunch time to chant slogans and sing the protest anthem, watched by police officers nearby.
Dozens of unions and a student group are also asking their members to vote on Sunday to indicate if they want to go on strike to oppose the new law.
The Hong Kong government has called the vote “meaningless” and slammed the organisers for inciting and misleading students.
Their calls come ahead of the first anniversary of the July 1 march the Civil Human Rights Front had coordinated a year ago, when two million people demonstrated against the now-scrapped extradition Bill.