When Chandan Kumar, manager of the Old Monk Bar and Grill, discovered that a patron of a bar across the street from his establishment in Tsim Sha Tsui had tested positive for coronavirus, he was shocked.
“I immediately told my staff to remain extra vigilant,” he said.
Now, that bar across the street, China Secret, is at the centre of fears of a new coronavirus cluster, with officials asking police for help in tracking down customers and staff after a 22-year-old student and a Thai woman tested positive after visiting the bar in September, when about 20 other people were also there. Most have since been sent to quarantine, while police are still attempting to trace two other patrons.
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China Secret is located on the third floor of the Lee Chau Commercial Building on Hart Avenue, and was shut on Monday.
Allan Zeman, the biggest landlord in Hong Kong’s famed nightlife district of Lan Kwai Fong, said the infections linked to China Secret were “unfortunate”, adding he hoped the virus had not spread to more places.
Zeman warned the Covid-19 pandemic was not going anywhere any time soon, noting it was important for bars and pubs to get accustomed to new norms, such as wearing masks, practising social distancing and conducting temperature checks on arrival.
While bars were recently allowed to reopen after being closed during the city’s third wave of Covid-19 infections, they remain subject to restrictions, including closing at midnight and capping the number of customers at a table to two – compared with four for restaurants.
On Monday, the city recorded 11 new coronavirus infections, pushing the total number of cases to 5,124, with 105 related deaths.
Referring to reports that there were seven tables of customers on the night the student went to China Secret – suggesting there might have been too many patrons – Zeman said most bars were adhering to the new rules. But in every industry, he added, there were a few “bad apples”, which he hoped would not prompt authorities to shut the beleaguered sector back down.
“If we keep opening and closing industries, including the bar industry, Hong Kong will die,” he said. “I think it is important that the government works with every industry to see how we can be proactive, and that even if we do get a fourth spike again, that we do not have to close.”
Zeman said he believed bars should impose rules ensuring that customers spend no more than two hours in a given venue, and be more strict about customers maintaining social distancing and wearing masks when not drinking.
“If people do not want to do that, then they have to leave,” he said. “The only way is to have stringent measures. This is the only way to survive and keep open.”
For Christina Yaneza, manager of Spades Bar, next door to China Secret, the fear of closing their doors is real.
“We are really worried we might have to close if there is another outbreak,” she says.
Benji Chan and Edmond Leung, patrons of the Old Monk Bar and Grill, said they had not heard about the positive case at the bar across the street.
Chan, a 30-year-old accountant, said the infection risk associated with bars depended on how people conducted themselves inside – for instance, if customers mingled with different groups, rather than just their own.
“If you just hang out with friends, then it is OK. Even with Edmond, we are keeping a bit of distance from each other,” Chan said, as the two friends sat at a table outside.
Office worker Leung, meanwhile, said he would be concerned if the bar were busier and there were people chatting and drinking at the table next to him.
“As long as we maintain social distancing with the tables, then I am not too worried,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of everyone in Hong Kong to wear masks and be responsible.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong seeks Thai consulate’s help over Covid-19 cluster threat, temporarily bans Nepal Airlines as city records 11 new cases
- Hong Kong pub raided by police, four arrested under coronavirus laws, 18 teenagers briefly detained