Catering industry leaders have cautioned Hong Kong’s restaurants and bars against treading into grey zones around the city’s Covid-19 social-distancing rules, noting many are serving more people than allowed and failing to set up effective barriers between tables to minimise infection risks.
The Wednesday warning was aimed squarely at the many eateries around the city that have separated diners at the same table with small acrylic panels in order to serve more than allowed, rather than using them to segregate tables as mandated by the law.
From what I’ve observed, most restaurants adopt this seating arrangement to serve more customers. I think this is crossing the line
Simon Wong, Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades
Under the city’s existing social-distancing rules, eateries and bars can serve a maximum of four and two people per table, respectively, while operating at no more than 50 per cent of seating capacity.
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Venues are to keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres between tables or install “effective partitions” to serve as a buffer. Business operators flouting the rules face a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and imprisonment for six months.
Under a new measure effective on Wednesday, diners can now also be held liable for breaching the rules, and subject to a fixed penalty of HK$2,000.
Anthea Cheung So-may, director of the Lan Kwai Fong Association, which has more than 100 members in the nightclub hub, acknowledged many restaurants and bars had attempted to skirt the rules to maximise their business.
“The rule allows restaurants and bars, especially small ones, to install ‘effective partitions’ between tables if they can’t keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres between tables,” she said.
“However, many have instead put up plastic panels to separate diners at the same table, which is not really stated in the law. This is really a grey area,” she said.
Other nearby restaurants also [subdivide tables with plastic barriers]. We can arrange two separate tables for you if you don’t like this arrangement
An employee at a Ting Kau restaurant
A Post reporter called up Yue Kee Roast Goose Restaurant in Ting Kau for a booking of seven people on Wednesday, and a waitress said they could arrange a table for eight with two plastic panels inserted to separate diners.
When the reporter asked if that would comply with social-distancing rules, the woman said: “We’ve been making this arrangement for the past few days and things have been alright for us. Other nearby restaurants also take similar measures. We can arrange two separate tables for you if you don’t like this arrangement.”
Cheung said she would send a reminder to members urging them to strictly follow the rules, noting police and health inspectors had already warned some outlets to install partitions that properly segregate tables.
Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, admitted that while setting up partitions was something of a grey zone, he doubted it was within the rules laid down.
“From what I’ve observed, most restaurants adopt this seating arrangement to serve more customers. I think this is crossing the line,” he said.
However, Wong also blamed the government for failing to clarify what precisely was meant by an “effective partition”.
“The law doesn’t clearly define this requirement, that’s why many restaurants don’t strictly follow the seating rules, especially those seafood restaurants with outdoor seating in Sai Kung. They simply don’t know how to accurately implement the rules,” he said.
Wong said he had personally witnessed health inspectors conducting checks at those restaurants, only to leave without making any comment.
Simon Wong Kit-lung, who runs the LH Group of restaurants, said tables at his company’s 37 eateries would not exceed the four-person maximum, while acknowledging many other eateries were using the thin partitions to do just that.
“Restaurants wish to do more business during the holidays, but having more than four people sharing a table is not right,” he said.
Additional reporting by Denise Tsang
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