A woman waits to cross a street in Hong Kong on March 24, 2022. (DALE DE LA REY / AFP)
Hong Kong residents shouldn’t let their guard down regardless of the scheduled phased relaxation of social distancing measures from April 21, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said during her daily media briefing on Thursday.
Lam and other government officials announced at the briefing a detailed plan to ease social distancing measures in three phases starting April 21, on the condition that the COVID-19 pandemic situation continues to abate.
The maximum number of people permitted for group gatherings in public places will also be raised to four, with the prohibition on gatherings at private premises involving more than two households lifted
During the first phase, government will allow the reopening of fitness centers, beauty parlors, sports venues, museums, performance venues and libraries under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Dine-in services at catering establishments will be extended from 6 pm to 10 pm, with the maximum number of customers per table increased from two to four.
The maximum number of people permitted for group gatherings in public places will also be raised to four, with the prohibition on gatherings at private premises involving more than two households lifted.
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Local tours are expected to resume with the number of local tourists allowed to join raised from 30 to 100. All tour guides and tourists should have the required vaccine pass while the rapid antigen test results for all staff members on the travel day should be negative.
Eating and drinking in cinemas will also be permitted, provided that all staff and audience members have received three doses of COVID-19 vaccines, or two doses for recovered persons aged 12 or above.
Other premises like bars and pubs, party rooms, public swimming pools and beaches will be allowed to resume business only during phase two.
“Every decision (on anti-pandemic measures) is a tough one. Rather than simply (being) a public health arrangement, any new measures are intertwined with economic development, social viability, public livelihood and well-being,” said Lam.
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Sophia Chan Siu-chee, the secretary for food and heath, said during the same briefing that, when bars and pubs reopen, their staff will be required to take RATs every three days.
The decision to ease the social-distancing rules means increased social activities and gatherings, which come with heightened risks of transmission, said Lam.
While the number of daily confirmed cases has tapered off, it remains at a worryingly high level, she said. “Therefore, we urge all residents to be on their toes, taking personal protective measures and aware of the infection risks.”
Whether the relaxation of precautionary measures materializes depends on the pandemic situation after the four-day Easter holiday starting Friday, said Lam.
“The relaxation is carried out in a gradual, orderly manner,” to minimize the odds of a rebound, “so the measures in the first phase may not be able to satisfy all stakeholders,” Lam added.
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She thanked business owners of affected premises for their cooperation and compliance with government anti-virus rules. “Some of the premises, such as gyms and cinemas, were forced to shut for more than 200 days in the past two years.”
Showing faith in Hong Kong’s capability to ease back to normal without lapsing into a sixth wave of infections, Lam said the city is “in a good preparatory mode” largely because of the positive outlook on its vaccination rate and with more facilities available for COVID-19 treatment, quarantine and isolation.