Coronavirus: Hong Kong cap on public gatherings extended, though word on Macau-mainland travel bubble expected soon

Elizabeth Cheung

Social-distancing rules limiting public gatherings in Hong Kong to no more than 50 people will remain unchanged for at least the next two weeks, though measures at a variety of venues are set to be relaxed from Friday.

Seating capacity originally capped at 50 per cent at spots ranging from bars to concert halls to places of worship will be increased to 80 per cent, the government said on Tuesday.

The news followed city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s morning announcement that the travel bubble to be formed with Macau and mainland China’s Guangdong province was likely to be announced this week.

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Hong Kong, which has largely kept a lid on the coronavirus, on Tuesday marked its 17th day without a locally transmitted case. But two imported infections, involving a 59-year-old father and his 19-year-old son, both recently returned from the US, were recorded. The total number of infections in the city now stands at 1,205, with seven related deaths.

“It has been more than two weeks since we last had locally confirmed cases,” Lam said before her weekly cabinet meeting.

“We can relax some of the measures under the ‘suppress and lift’ strategy, but foreign experiences show resuming all activities might cause a resurgence. We have to strike a balance.”

The city’s social-distancing measures were drastically reduced on June 16, when the cap on the number of people allowed to meet in public jumped from eight to 50.

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A press release from the Food and Health Bureau on Tuesday, however, revealed the cap would remain fixed at 50 for at least the next two weeks.

Seating capacity at bars, pubs, cinemas and performance venues, however, would be raised to 80 per cent, though social-distancing measures such as keeping tables 1.5 metres apart are to remain in place.

Meanwhile, with pressure mounting on the government to launch the long-awaited travel bubbles, Lam said work on the scheme was entering its final stages and details could be announced this week.

Under the plan, the city will launch its own health code system to certify residents virus-free before they travel to Macau and Guangdong, so they can be exempted from the mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement.

While an official announcement of the plan was expected in coming days, it remained unclear when the new system would be widely available.

Separately, veteran Chinese infectious disease expert Professor Zhong Nanshan on Tuesday praised Hong Kong for its success in containing the spread of Covid-19.

“Hong Kong has done a good job. Very low mortality and also not high incidence,” Zhong said in an online forum where he was joined by University of Hong Kong (HKU) expert Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and renowned HIV/Aids researcher Professor David Ho.

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Speaking at the same forum, Professor Gabriel Leung, dean of HKU’s medical school, said a recent survey done by his research team showed Hongkongers were still maintaining practices such as wearing masks when going out and washing hands often. But the data also revealed that fewer people were avoiding crowded places or social gatherings.

“We are now coming out of our first wave, and with mostly imported cases. [Residents] are starting to relax some of their alertness, which is OK, because you can’t stay locked down forever,” Leung said at the event organised by the Hong Kong Academy of Sciences.

He added that while a second wave of infection was “inevitable”, it did “not need to be a huge one” if the correct measures were implemented.

With the local health crisis easing and the resumption of daily activities, the MTR Corporation said that starting from Wednesday, train frequency during off-peak periods will be increased across different lines, including on weekends and public holidays from an interval of three to 10 minutes, to three to seven minutes.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Health Protection said it was notified by mainland authorities that 11 crew members of a container ship tested positive for Covid-19 when they disembarked at the eastern city of Ningbo last Friday.

Nine people in the group had boarded the ship in Hong Kong on June 24. Among them, six had came from Indonesia before the Hong Kong stop, with two from Greece and one from Croatia.

They were declared asymptomatic when they arrived in the city between June 21 and 23, and spent most of their time at Dorsett Tsuen Wan Hotel.

Hong Kong authorities have contacted their mainland counterparts to obtain more information about the cases.

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