Published on : Saturday, April 4, 2020
Most bars and pubs in Hong Kong shut to obey with the government’s latest ban aimed at limiting social gatherings and curbing a growing number of Covid-19 cases tied to entertainment hotspots. The Health authorities said six of nine new local coronavirus infections were linked to bars in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, with 34 others coming from overseas, taking the city’s overall tally to 845.
The latest shutdown order came as residents prepared to fan out across the city on Saturday to sweep the graves of ancestors and a senior official warned that students were unlikely to return to school before summer holidays.
But even with shops and streets largely deserted, residents managed to strike a positive note by breaking out into whoops, cheers and applause at 8pm for health workers fighting the pandemic as the city’s iconic skyscrapers beamed out messages of support.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection, said at least five newly infected people had visited bars with a history of cases. One person visited All Night Long in Tsim Sha Tsui, and another had a friend, among the confirmed cases, who had gone to Insomnia in Central, Chuang said. Two others were performers and the third was a bar employee.
Chuang said that the sixth case involved a man who visited Tasmanian Ballroom in Lan Kwai Fong after returning to Hong Kong from the Netherlands in early March. They are not sure whether this is an imported case involving a long lapse of time or a locally infected one from a bar.
A Cathay Pacific ground employee had also been infected but the source of transmission was unclear, as the person had also recently attended a funeral, she said.
The government has already closed nine types of venue, including cinemas, gyms, saunas and karaoke bars. Under the ban that came into effect at 6pm, any premise that is “exclusively or mainly used” to sell and consume liquor must close for at least two weeks. The offenders risk a maximum HK$50,000 fine (US$6,450) and six months in jail. The authorities have tied roughly 70 infections to such venues, including a baby boy about six weeks old.
But hours before the deadline, owners were complaining of grey areas in the rule and left wondering how it would apply to drinking venues that also served food, which are categorised as “bar and restaurants” on their liquor license.
“With the new government’s policy, the message is rather unclear,” said the vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association, Chin Chun-wing, who also criticised the government for failing to consult the industry beforehand.
Chin said many owners would close down rather than sell food and risk running afoul of the law. He urged the government to offer compensation by paying their full rent and 80 per cent of staff salaries. He called on authorities to close all restaurants to better stem the spread of the virus and avoid extending the shutdown period.
Barrister Anson Wong Yu-yat agreed the new regulation was ambiguous, which should not be the case for a law that carried a criminal penalty. He said that while restaurants were still allowed to serve alcohol, bars might not get away just by selling food.
In Central, hotspots along D’Aguilar street were closed after 6pm but two restaurants with bar service on Wyndham Street remained open although the pub area was off-limits.
But at one venue customers were allowed to sit in a row of seats opposite the bar after ordering only drinks. They will give you some snacks for free.
Across the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui, some pubs and restaurants remained open but with their bar areas closed. About 20 police officers and inspectors from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department were patrolling near Chatham Road South.