Asia

HK to reopen gyms, extend dine-in hours as virus cases ease

HONG KONG • The Hong Kong government said it will allow gyms, massage parlours and some sports venues to reopen, beginning tomorrow, as coronavirus cases drop off from record highs.

In a further relaxation of rules, dine-in services at restaurants will be extended by one hour, to 10pm, said Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan in a briefing yesterday.

“We listened to the citizens telling us that sometimes it’s a bit rushed… having dinner, because Hong Kong people tend to work late, and so therefore slightly extending by one hour would serve the purpose,” Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) quoted Ms Chan as saying.

A cap of two people at each table will remain in effect at restaurants, while public gatherings will be limited to two people for another seven days.

However, bars, karaoke lounges, mahjong parlours and swimming pools remain closed.

“We have yet to see a stable situation,” Ms Chan told a news briefing. “Everyone must maintain a certain degree of social distancing.”

Hong Kong has been gradually easing social distancing measures as it brings its biggest Covid-19 outbreak under control.

The Asian financial hub announced earlier that schools are to resume face-to-face teaching from Sept 23, among the easing of measures that have kept 900,000 students at home for more than four months.

The government is also in the midst of a Beijing-backed campaign to have everyone in the city tested, with about 745,000 residents registered for it as at yesterday.

Hong Kong, which saw daily case numbers top 100 as recently as a month ago, reported eight new virus cases yesterday, all of which were locally transmitted, with four of them having an unknown origin.

Despite the easing of virus measures, however, for the second year in a row, the city will cancel the annual firework display to mark China’s national day on Oct 1.

Pro-democracy protests made last year’s celebrations difficult, and they have become fewer and smaller this year, owing mainly to limits on group gatherings and the imposition of a national security law that punishes actions China views as subversive, secessionist, terrorist or colluding with foreign forces.

Hong Kong, which saw daily case numbers top 100 as recently as a month ago, reported eight new virus cases yesterday, all of which were locally transmitted, with four of them having an unknown origin.

“In response to the latest situation of the Covid-19 epidemic, the National Day fireworks… will be cancelled,” the government said in a statement on the celebrations, which usually take place near the picturesque Victoria Harbour.

While Hong Kong is reopening gyms in an effort to improve residents’ physical and mental health, masks will still be required when exercising.

Questions have been raised over the possible risks to wearing masks while exercising, but one health expert dismissed concerns over the policy.

“For low to moderate exercise in healthy persons, it should not pose too much problem,” said Dr Leung Chi Chiu, former chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases.

“Suitably reducing exercise intensity may help those who have problems.”

The government last week relaxed mask-wearing at country parks and for exercising outdoors, but “in situations where social distancing cannot be met, people still need to wear masks during exercise”, Dr Leung said.

Associate Professor Nicholas Thomas from the City University of Hong Kong said a more important issue is hygiene within the gyms as well as the number of people allowed to exercise at a time.

“A gym operating at full capacity, where masks are being worn, offers far more opportunities for viral transmission than a small table of diners without masks,” he said.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

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