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Hong Kong enforces strict 'third wave' restrictions

A government worker walks along a deserted restaurant strip in Stanley, Hong Kong Island.

Hong Kong’s strict new coronavirus measures kicked-in on July 29 with a complete closure of all restaurants and cafes in the city.

However, after a chaotic first day with city workers having to take their lunch breaks outdoors in searing temperatures, the government allowed eateries to reopen between 5am and 6pm from July 31. Additional limitations mean there must be no more than two diners sitting at any one table and each venue must operate at no more than 50% capacity.

Face masks are now mandatory in all public places throughout the city, including when exercising. Public gatherings are limited to two people with stiff penalties for anyone found in breach of the regulations.

Public swimming pools and beaches which were first closed on July 15 remain shuttered, as well as country park facilities such as barbecue sites and campsites. Sports centres, tennis courts, sports grounds and water sports centres also remain out of bounds. Hairdressers and barbers shops are allowed to operate, but spas and beauty salons must remain closed.

The new measures have hit the struggling food and beverage sector hard and the catering industry has now called on the government for a HK$8 billion bailout. It is expected the sector will be hit with losses of up HK$7 billion in August alone.

The territory had enjoyed a relatively low infection record until cases surged in July as a ‘third wave’ hit the city.

A first round of restrictions to limit the outbreak introduced in mid-July meant the city’s dining spaces were able to operate until 6pm and from then on offer a takeaway service. As of July 31, they could resume this arrangement.

However, the hospitality industry predicts that this will not be enough to make up for the massive drop in revenue. According to online restaurant guide Openrice, more than 250 Hong Kong restaurants went out of business in June.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s secretary for Food & Health has admitted that the government’s quarantine exemption policy may be behind July’s surge in cases. According to the city’s Security Bureau, more than 200,000 people were exempted from the compulsory 14-day quarantine on entering Hong Kong between February and May. There were exemptions for 33 types of inbound travellers from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan, including cross-boundary goods vehicle drivers, specially designated business people and government officials. Aircraft crew and cargo ship personnel were also allowed unimpeded entry.

The government said that the arrangement was necessary to ensure the ‘normal operation’ of the city, but has now tightened its policy on sea and air crew arrivals.

Hong Kong registered a new daily record of 149 new infections on July 30.

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