Hong Kong’s hard-pressed bar trade expects pubs to reopen on Friday after two months of coronavirus-related closures and estimated losses of HK$260 million (US$33.3 million) but stringent rules are likely to be imposed, the Post has learned.
Industry leaders said on Saturday that the measures would include restricting customers’ stay to a maximum of two hours and installing plastic partitions between tables, as well as keeping people’s details for future contact tracing if needed.
Business magnate Allan Zeman, a major property owner in the Lan Kwai Fong entertainment district, said the government had told him during a recent meeting that bars could be allowed to reopen on Friday.
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“I was told if the number of Covid-19 infections continues to drop, potentially they will open next Friday,” he told the Post. “This [closure] is driving me crazy … I told them if the bars are kept closed they will die and many people will lose their jobs.”
His warning came with the city’s about 1,280 bars and pubs on the brink of collapse following the reimposition of social-distancing measures in July. Although the government eased some restrictions on Friday, including increasing the number of people allowed at public gatherings from two to four and reopening entertainment venues such as game centres and mahjong parlours, bars and pubs were not included.
As Hong Kong battled a third wave of Covid-19 infections, the government tightened social-distancing rules on July 15, including closing bars, pubs, clubhouses and any part of catering premises mainly used for the sale or supply of alcohol. Rules affecting restaurants were recently relaxed to allow dine-in services until 10pm, up from 6pm, for a maximum of four people per table.
The city recorded 13 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, extending the run of fewer than 20 daily infections to a sixth day.
“Literally, bars are on life support. They’ve been closed for so long. Many won’t survive if they are closed for another week,” Zeman said.
He said he suggested to the government that bars be allowed to open until midnight as they operated differently from restaurants. “But it’s up to the government to decide,” he said, adding that bars would keep customers’ details in case contact tracing was necessary.
Wing Chin Chun-wing, vice-president of the Hong Kong Bar & Club Association, said his group had on Friday met Undersecretary for Food and Health Chui Tak-yi and he basically agreed that premises could be reopened the following Friday if the Covid-19 situation continued to stabilise.
“We told him we can’t take it any longer. We’ve been closed for two months but we still need to pay rent and employees’ wages. We cannot afford to be closed any longer,” he said.
“Summer is usually the bar trade’s peak season. I estimate that each premises has lost at least HK$100,000 in net profit each month. In other words, over the past two months the bar sector has lost at least HK$260 million in net profit.”
To ease public concerns about the virus spreading, the association proposed putting in place extra measures to reduce infection risks on top of standard practices such as disinfection.
“We will require that customers stay for less than two hours to lower their risk of getting intoxicated. We will also ensure the bars and pubs install plastic partitions between tables to separate customers, to prevent the spread of saliva,” he said.
Chin also said they had asked the government to allow them to stay open until 2am.
“Our operating hours are very different from traditional restaurants. We can’t close too early otherwise we cannot attract customers,” he said.
Bar owner Wilson Lee, who has 10 outlets in the Prince Edward area employing about 80 full- and part-time staff, said when his premises were forced to close for one month in April, his business suffered a HK$3 million loss.
Over the past two months, the business took another HK$3 million hit in losses excluding those covered by the government’s HK$81 billion employment support scheme, which subsidises workers’ wages for six months, capped at HK$9,000 per month.
Lee did not rule out shutting down three or four bars if they were unable to reopen soon.
“I think the government has been unfair to the bar industry. Our operations are actually the same as restaurants with a liquor licence. I don’t know why the government has to discriminate against bars and pubs,” he said.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Crowds return to struggling Hong Kong businesses as coronavirus social-distancing rules eased
- Fifth of Hong Kong residents take part in coronavirus test scheme, as city records just three local Covid-19 cases out of 12 confirmed
- Many Hong Kong bars won’t survive Covid-19 business ban for much longer, trade group warns
- Hong Kong reports 13 new Covid-19 cases, reaches grim milestone of 100 deaths
- Further ease Hong Kong social-distancing rules to prevent catering sector from collapsing, say industry leaders