Hong Kong’s pandemic-hit businesses questioned the rationale behind the government’s latest steps towards relaxing social-distancing rules on Wednesday, with some complaining the latest arrangements were more stringent than expected and offered little help.
From Friday, gyms, sports premises, clubhouses and massage parlours will be conditionally allowed to reopen, and eateries can offer evening dine-in service for guests for an additional hour, or until 10pm.
The resumptions, however, came with caveats, such as a limit of four people on group classes at gyms and the continuation of an existing rule limiting restaurants to no more than two per table.
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With a third round of pandemic relief funding still brewing, the government-backed HKMC Insurance on Wednesday extended a measure under which borrowers are not required to pay the principal on two loan products offered to small and medium-sized businesses.
But coronavirus-stricken businesses have already suffered a months-long revenue slump, with business owners casting doubt on officials’ gradual easing of the city’s social-distancing measures.
Thai restaurant boss Sae Ngow Vasunt argued officials had only limited groups at restaurants to four to a table during comparably low runs of new daily infections in the past, with no outright bans on dine-in services.
“Why don’t they follow the [same] standard [as] back then?” Ngow Vasunt said. “I have no issue with restricting the number of people at a table, but we pay rent every hour.”
By allowing evening dine-in services for one more hour each day, Ngow Vasunt said his restaurant could, at best, turn around its tables twice in a dinner service, estimating revenue would drop 20 per cent below the normal amount. Still, this would be better than the 30 per cent decline in earnings when dine-in services had to end at 9pm, he said.
“I feel officials were like doing almsgiving to us,” he said.
Meanwhile, with no sign of bars reopening, Cat Hou Chui-shan, chairwoman of the Bartenders and Mixologists Union of Hong Kong, said officials’ cautious relaxation of rules had left them confused.
Hou noted that the government’s approach on reopening bars was stricter than for restaurants, and that the latest round of rule easing was not consistent with past ones.
“This makes it hard to predict what will happen,” Hou said.
Cyber Yin, who co-owns the party room brand Party Fun in Mong Kok, said he had initially expected businesses like his to resume operations this Friday, but officials appeared intent on keeping such establishments closed.
“Snooker centres can reopen; so can some entertainment premises. So I don’t really know [the government’s] standards,” he said.
Other businesses that will be allowed to welcome guests again this weekend, however, appeared to be more understanding of the new measures.
A spokesman at a gym in Tsim Sha Tsui, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he understood the government’s decision to only allow four people for each group class – including the coach – but that the measures were still stricter than he had expected.
He said the rule meant his business could only run private training sessions but not group classes, which used to account for about 40 per cent of his entire revenue.
Yu Ching-tong, a massage parlour operator, welcomed the relaxation in rules, but predicted her revenue would still only be about half of the normal amount because of lingering customer apprehension over the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Box Office said ticket sales at cinemas shrank by more than 90 per cent – to HK$37.5 million (US$4.8 million) – between July 1 and August 31. The summer holiday used to be a peak business period for theatres.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong extends payment holidays until April 2021 to give struggling small businesses a lifeline out of worst recession
- Hong Kong relaxes social-distancing rules as city confirms lowest number of new Covid-19 cases in nearly two months
- Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s struggling restaurant sector not hopeful about profit rebound despite dining relaxations
- Coronavirus: Hong Kong restaurants get much-needed lift as evening dining ban ends, but many still feeling the pinch