The Hong Kong government announced its toughest COVID-19 restrictions yet yesterday in response to the city’s escalating coronavirus outbreak. Restaurants and food courts will be banned from providing dine-in services at all times and can only offer takeaway services and deliveries. Group gatherings in public places will also be tightened from four to two.
The compulsory mask-wearing rule in indoor public places imposed on 22 July will also be extended to include outdoor public places as well; exercising or smoking are not eligible exemptions to the rule. These measures will come into effect at midnight tomorrow and will be enforced until 4 August, pending any further developments.
The Centre for Health Protection also compelled employers to arrange for employees to work from home in order to prevent further COVID-19 community outbreaks. In cases where remote working is not possible, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, the centre’s Communicable Disease Branch Head, advised employers to revise their practices. “Try to reduce the number of the employees, ask them to wear masks during work, stagger lunch hours, and try to prevent workers from gathering or having lunch together without masks,” Chuang recommended.
Yesterday saw another record high of 145 COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong and marked the sixth consecutive day for new cases stretching into the triple digits. Four more coronavirus patients passed away, totalling the number of fatalities to 22. The rapid surge in cases has put increasing pressure on hospitals. Around 100 confirmed COVID-19 patients are still waiting to be admitted.
The additional restrictions have put a huge strain on the F&B industry, which has already suffered heavy losses as a result of pro-democracy protests and earlier COVID restrictions. The sector has requested an HKD 8 billion bailout from the government, citing an anticipated loss of HKD 7 billion in August alone, according to the SCMP.
“The industry can’t afford to bear this massive loss in revenue. The government needs to rescue them as quickly as possible, otherwise thousands of restaurants may be forced to shut down as they can’t cope with the rent and operating expenses without income,” Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, told the SCMP.