HONG KONG – Social distancing rules in Hong Kong, particularly those to do with dining out, will be eased from Thursday (April 29) for two weeks as long as people are vaccinated and use the LeaveHomeSafe contact tracing app.
Bars, pubs, party rooms, bath houses, karaoke clubs and nightclubs, which have been shut for five months, will also be allowed to reopen if the conditions are met.
This comes as Hong Kong officials move to ramp up sluggish Covid-19 vaccination rates that they stress is key to putting businesses back on track.
Officials have reiterated that there is enough vaccine supply to go around, but only about 11 per cent of the 7.5 million population have received at least one dose. So far, more than 1.3 million doses of vaccine have been administered.
With the temporary easing of rules, eateries where all staff have had at least the first shot of the vaccine are allowed to offer dine-in services in a specified area till midnight, and each table can seat up to six patrons. Customers do not need to be vaccinated but have to use the LeaveHomeSafe app.
Those who choose to write their contact details down on paper rather than use the government app will have to sit in a separate area where each table can only have up to four people and dine-in services end at 10pm, which is the current arrangement.
Rules will be further relaxed if all staff have received two doses of the vaccine and waited 14 days for antibodies to develop, and customers have had their first jab and use the LeaveHomeSafe app. Dine-in services in a specified area can then last till 2am and each table can seat up to eight patrons.
Secretary for Health Sophia Chan on Tuesday introduced the two new modes of operation for eateries following a discussion at the weekly Executive Council meeting in the morning.
Currently, eateries that do not implement any social distancing measures have to end dine-in services at 6pm and can have only up to two patrons per table.
Most eateries, however, have their staff tested every two weeks for Covid-19 and ensure customers use the contact tracing app, so that they can offer dine-in services till 10pm and seat up to four patrons per table.
For staff who are not suitable for the jabs, they can be exempted from the rules as long as they provide proof from a doctor and fill up a declaration form. But they have to get tested for the virus every week.
Hong Kong’s free and voluntary vaccination drive is now open to those aged 16 and above.
Customers aged 15 and below – including young children – can be exempted from the rules when eating out with their parents if the parents use the LeaveHomeSafe app. They can also fill up a declaration form.
Those who provide false or inaccurate information can be fined up to HK$5,000 (S$854).
Prof Chan said: “If we can achieve herd immunity, if we can build our protection for everybody, then the (vaccine) bubble will grow bigger and bigger, and in that sense, we can have more relaxation and perhaps at that point in time, the inconveniences will be gone.”
Bars, pubs, party rooms, bath houses, karaoke clubs and nightclubs where staff and customers have had at least one dose of the vaccine and use the LeaveHomeSafe app, can operate at half capacity until 2am.
Patrons per table at bars, pubs and nightclubs will be capped at two. For karaoke lounges and party rooms, each room can have up to four patrons.
Mahjong parlours can open till midnight if all staff and patrons have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Meanwhile, local tours can also resume, with each group capped at 30. But tour guides must receive their first dose of the vaccine, while participants will have to be tested negative for Covid-19 within three days before the start of their tour.
The limits on banquets and annual general meetings held outdoors have been raised up to 100 guests, while religious gatherings held outdoors can operate at 100 per cent capacity
Other existing measures such as mask-wearing and public gatherings of no more than four, will remain in place.
Hong Kong’s daily new infections in the past month have mostly been in the single digits.
So far, it has more than 11,700 confirmed cases and 209 deaths.
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