Hong Kong to shut bars and pubs, order more to go for Covid-19 testing

Visitors lining up to enter a community testing centre in Hong Kong on Nov 21, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG - Hong Kong will close entertainment outlets including bars and nightclubs, for the third time since the Covid-19 pandemic began, to contain a ballooning dance studio cluster.

The outlets will be closed from Thursday (Nov 26) to Dec 2. They were first closed in April and again from July to September.

Other new measures include the stipulation that all banquets will have no more than 10 tables, although each table can still have up to four patrons, which is what is now allowed in eateries.

Health officials said group gatherings in hotels and guest houses will be restricted. For instance, the number of guests in a room will be capped and there must be proper segregation of quarantine and non-quarantine rooms.

Appealing to the public to reduce dining out and avoid gatherings, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said the "situation is dire", with the source of infections unknown for many cases in recent days, and a third of the new patients asymptomatic.

The updated measures come on top of existing restrictions such as no more than four people allowed at any public gathering. Masks must be worn in public settings and restaurants are to cap operating capacity at 50 per cent.

The tightening of measures comes as the dance studio cluster expanded to 187 patients, which worried officials have said is the largest outbreak since the pandemic swept the city.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong recorded 80 new confirmed cases, of which 69 were local and 54 linked to the cluster that started at a dance studio in Wan Chai. This brings the total tally to more than 5,780 cases, including 108 deaths.

The government on Tuesday also issued a notice to say that seven more venues across the city - in Mei Foo, Aberdeen, Sha Tin and Tsim Sha Tsui - had been added to an initial list of 14 dance studios at the heart of the latest outbreak.

Visitors to the seven studios have been given until Thursday to get tested, while those who visited the 14 dance studios had till the end of yesterday to submit samples for testing.

Any person who fails to comply with the testing notice can be fined HK$2,000 (S$347). The person would also be issued with a compulsory testing order and another failure to do so could mean a fine of HK$25,000 and six months' jail.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who will deliver her fourth policy address on Wednesday, said the government is in a tight financial situation.

"We've had three rounds of anti-epidemic funds - we've already used HK$310 billion. That may be the deficit of the government this year.

"We would like to make sure of reforms, to implement new initiatives without using additional monetary resources."

About 700 initiatives were proposed in the past three years, with 95 per cent completed or in progress, she said, and the remaining 5 per cent will be moved along as Parliament picks up speed.

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