Hong Kong to Relax Social-Distancing Rules as Virus Wave Recedes

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Hong Kong said it will extend restaurant hours, double the number of people allowed to sit at one table, and reopen certain venues beginning Thursday, formalizing its plan to roll back restrictions as cases dwindled during the Chinese New Year.

Restaurants will be permitted to extend dining-in services until 10 p.m., four hours longer than the current limit, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said in a briefing Tuesday. The city will allow four people to sit at the same table in restaurants, up from the current limit of two.

Sports venues will also be allowed to reopen, together with beauty parlors, theme parks and cinemas. Businesses will be required to have their staff regularly tested for the virus, while their customers’ visits will need to be registered.

“Thanks to efforts by all the residents in Hong Kong, the local epidemic has cooled down,” said Chan. “We hope residents’ lives can gradually return to normalcy.”

The moves come as a welcome step for businesses and residents that have endured months of restrictions. The Asian financial hub has been battling its longest virus wave by re-introducing strict social-distancing measures since the end of November, putting pressure on the city’s battered economy.

Hong Kong to Relax Social-Distancing Rules as Virus Wave Recedes

Hong Kong has seen infections fall to no more than a dozen in the past few days, after it deployed compulsory testing and neighborhood lockdowns in an attempt to achieve zero cases in the community. Officials last week said the city would officially relax its measures if the virus remained contained over the New Year holidays.

The limit of public gathering of no more than two people will be extended until March 3, Chan said, though the government is seeking to relax the measure. Party rooms, bars and swimming pools will remain closed.

Hong Kong residents have already been taking more public transportation and doing more shopping in the past week to celebrate the traditional festival, despite warnings from officials that the drop of cases came as less testing took place during the four-day public break.

The government is preparing to start its vaccination program in early March. The vaccine developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc. received a greenlight for emergency use last month. The government-appointed expert panel last week postponed a decision on the shot developed by Sinovac Biotech Ltd. The panel plans to brief the media later Tuesday.

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