HONG KONG – The Hong Kong government will reopen schools and relax the various social distancing measures, most of which expire on Thursday (May 7), as the number of new coronavirus infections in the city stabilises.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday afternoon, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the current limit on public gatherings of groups of up to four persons will be raised to eight from Friday.
Venues such as gyms, cinemas, gaming centres, mahjong, massage and beauty parlours will reopen from Friday, although some restrictions on their operations will remain in place until May 21.
For instance, cinemas’ capacity must not be maximised and beauticians must have specific precautions.
Karaoke lounges, party rooms and nightclubs will remain shut for a further two weeks.
Food and beverage businesses will be allowed to increase the maximum patrons at a table from four to eight, but other existing rules, including wearing masks and having tables at least 1.5m apart, will remain.
Bars and pubs can also reopen from Friday but live bands and dancing are not permitted. They must also observe a cap on the number of patrons.
“Raising the number from four to eight, both for the catering business and for the prohibition against a group gathering, is not an exact science, but this is a step in the right direction of relaxation. So, maybe in another 14 days’ time, we will raise the number from eight to 10, to 12, to 15,” said Mrs Lam, who added that there has to be flexibility in imposing rules.
Schools will open their doors in phases, with the higher secondary school students returning to class on May 27 before the younger pupils do so in June.
Classes will not resume for children in kindergarten for the rest of the year.
Asked if the decision was premature, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said the government is not resuming classes “right away” but is “giving advance notice of about three weeks for all the stakeholders to prepare for school resumption”.
He said the government will definitely monitor the situation and adjust plans accordingly but expressed confidence that the plan will be able to materialise on May 27.
The decision comes as Mrs Lam noted that Hong Kong had no local infection for 16 straight days.
Of these, no new case was recorded on 10 of the days, including Tuesday.
The total confirmed cases as at Tuesday is 1,040 and four deaths.
Around 900 patients have been discharged so far.
She said the number of infections has hovered in the low single digits and the rate of transmission has been lower in Hong Kong than other parts of the world.
The move makes Hong Kong one of the first cities in the world to reopen venues that attract large crowds.
As the pandemic appears to be under control, civil servants returned to their offices on Monday, and facilities such as museums and libraries will reopen gradually later this week.
At the briefing, the government also announced that the locally developed reusable face masks that can be used up to 60 times will be given out to residents from end June.