Hong Kong takes aim at yacht parties in latest coronavirus crackdown

Holding parties aboard rented "junks" and outlying islands is a favourite weekend pastime in Hong Kong, as is gathering on private yachts anchored off tropical beaches. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong has set up a hotline for residents to report parties aboard private yachts and rented party boats, as the financial hub tightens social-distancing rules to contain a surge of virus cases.

With nightclubs and karaoke parlours closing as a result of a new round of restrictions, some people were hosting rule-breaking gatherings at sea, Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a weekly news briefing Tuesday (Dec 1) ahead of a meeting of her advisory Executive Council.

Holding parties aboard rented "junks" in Hong Kong's iconic harbour and outlying islands is a favourite weekend pastime, as is gathering on private yachts anchored off tropical beaches.

"The reporting hotline newly set up is there because we see that, after party rooms and karaoke parlours have been made to close, there are a number of people who organise events at sea," Mrs Lam said. "We want to target such a breach."

The local police force, which has already launched a hotline for potential breaches of the city's controversial national security law, has also posted on Facebook calling on residents to alert them to parties at sea.

"Whilst scheduled premises such as bars, bath houses and party rooms have been closed according to the law, the police noticed that a number of vessels have been hired for social gathering," the police said.

"Even privately owned yachts are sometimes used for such purpose. This greatly increased the risk of transmission of disease."

While Hong Kong currently limits public gatherings at two people, the government hasn't capped the number of people who can meet in private.

A police representative declined to elaborate on the rules Tuesday on whether the measure would have any effect on private parties hosted by yacht owners, referring only to the earlier Facebook post.

Mrs Lam's comments come a day after announcing a new round of restrictions, including sending civil servants back to working from home, reducing restaurant-goers to two people per table and closing karaoke bars and mahjong parlours.

She said authorities planned to raise the HK$2,000 (S$345) fine for violating a ban on group gatherings because the current penalty wasn't enough of a deterrent.

The latest round of measures, including the suspension of a planned travel corridor with Singapore, have dented hopes for an economic recovery in the Asian financial hub.

While Hong Kong has had more success containing the pandemic than many big cities - with just over 6,300 total cases and 109 deaths since the outbreak began - cases are rising again with more than 70 cases daily over the past seven days.

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