Hong Kong to Relax Social Distancing Rules as Virus Cases Drop
Customers wearing protective masks line up outside a restaurant to order takeout meals in Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Roy Liu/Bloomberg)

Hong Kong to Relax Social Distancing Rules as Virus Cases Drop

Hong Kong will relax social distancing rules from Friday, allowing evening dining at restaurants and the removal of masks during outdoor exercise, as Covid-19 cases in the city dwindle.

Hong Kong will also reopen movie theaters, beauty parlors and some outdoor sports venues, officials said at a briefing on Tuesday. Current social distancing measures -- the strictest in the financial hub to date -- will be extended to Aug. 27.

The exemption on masks during exercise will last for seven days, Chan said, adding that many people had stopped exercising due to the requirement.

Despite the easing, restaurant seating will remain limited to two people per table. No food or drinks will be allowed in cinemas, which will provide socially distanced seating for moviegoers. Masks will be required at beauty parlors, with certain exceptions.

“Under this new normal, it is hard to expect there will be no confirmed cases in the long term,” Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan said. “We have to accept the possibility of having some specific cases and clusters.”

“The government cannot wait until there are no cases in the community to relax social distancing rules,” she said.

‘Reassuring’ Drop

Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s approval rating rose five percentage points to 24% -- the biggest increase since Dec. 2018, months before pro-democracy protests kicked off last year -- according to the latest survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Program, released Tuesday.

Lam said at a morning briefing that there had been a “reassuring” downward trend in cases. But she added that it was still hard to avoid some small community outbreaks, and that the government would continue monitoring and regularly test workers at the city’s port.

Hong Kong reported 16 new locally-transmitted virus cases on Tuesday, and three others that were imported.

The city is among regional spots battling a fresh wave of cases after seeing initial success containing the virus, including Vietnam, South Korea and Australia. Hong Kong’s government has urged citizens to take part in a voluntary free two-week drive to test the entire population for Covid-19 starting Sept. 1, aided by Chinese experts and labs.

Lam repeated that the testing campaign was fully supported by Beijing and urged participation.

“I would appeal to the public to actively participate in the universal testing scheme in order to find silent carriers as soon as possible,” she said. “The reason why Hong Kong at this moment has a capacity to undertake such a large scale universal community testing is because of the assistance rendered by the central people’s government.”

Lam’s government has been under pressure from restaurants and other small businesses to relax distancing measures. Smaller businesses have been especially hard hit, with the demonstrations knocking Hong Kong into a recession even before the pandemic hit.

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council will hold a special meeting to discuss the government’s coronavirus efforts on Friday.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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