The emergence of another mutant Covid-19 case in Hong Kong has stalled a government plan to resume live music and potentially relax seating rules in bars and other nightspots, the Post has learned, even as the industry embraces vaccinations to help revive business.
An announcement on easing social-distancing restrictions was expected by Thursday, an industry source said on Tuesday, but the new untraceable local case confirmed over the weekend forced officials to put those plans on hold.
“There is no news yet on lifting the existing restrictions,” a government source said.
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Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor cited the variant infection of a 17-year-old girl when she said on Tuesday the government was taking a conservative and gradual approach to easing coronavirus restrictions.
Lam said the government was working to trace the contacts of the infected girl. She added the health secretary would soon deliver details relating to the city’s social-distancing arrangements, which run until Wednesday.
Hong Kong raised the alert over the weekend after a mutant strain of the coronavirus infected a teenage girl and her mother through local transmission.
The 17-year-old with no recent travel history was confirmed on Saturday as carrying the B.1.1.7 or “Alpha” variant, first identified in Britain. The development broke the city’s 42-day streak of zero untraceable cases.
Her mother, 53, and sister, 20, were also confirmed as infected later this week.
The delay to easing social-distancing measures is another blow to bars without restaurant licences and nightclubs, which were only allowed to resume operations on April 29 subject to strict conditions following more than five months of closure.
They have been striving to meet the government’s “vaccine bubble” requirements, a system which connects vaccination take-up to the level of social-distancing restrictions in force.
Currently, all staff and customers at bars and nightclubs must produce health records showing they have taken at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot. They are also required to scan the government’s risk-exposure “Leave Home Safe” app.
Only two patrons are allowed per table and nightlife venues can only operate until 2am. Live performances are prohibited and dance floors must remain closed.
Jonathan Zeman, CEO of the Lan Kwai Fong Group, the biggest landlord in the Central nightlife hub, called for the safe resumption of live music, possibly by implementing a version of the vaccine bubble plan already in place for entertainment venues.
“Musicians have been out of work for a long, long time, and most of them are self-employed,” Zeman said, whose father, Allan, founded the Lan Kwai Fong district. “They don’t have [welfare] benefits, they don’t have a safety net.”
Jonathan Zeman said the vaccine bubble plan had worked well for Lan Kwai Fong’s bars because many expatriates and businesspeople who would previously have travelled frequently saw inoculation as the way back to normal life.
He also pointed out that staff in bars were more willing to get vaccinated and meet one of the key conditions for reopening businesses after enduring much harsher restrictions than restaurants.
But bars located beyond the party district have struggled to attract patrons.
Ben Leung Lap-yan, charter president of the Licensed Bar and Club Association of Hong Kong, said the industry hoped the number of people allowed at a table would expand to at least four – similar to the rules imposed on restaurants – from the current two.
Wing Chin Chun-wing, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar & Club Association, said the industry had fully complied with the government goal of getting staff and customers vaccinated.
“About 80 per cent of staff in bars have been vaccinated, and my company [Bar Pacific Group] has also launched freebies to vaccinated customers, to encourage vaccination,” he said.
“How come we don’t get to seat the same number of people per table as restaurants? Restaurants don’t even need to have vaccinated customers and yet people also take off their face masks when sharing a meal with others,” Chin said.
Chin and Leung said it was also upsetting that government health officials appeared to be sidelining the bar and nightlife sector.
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