Hong Kong’s social-distancing rules for restaurants, sports facilities and public gatherings would be relaxed from Friday, ministers have said, as they revealed they were working towards forming travel bubbles with 11 countries in the hope the Covid-19 epidemic continued to subside.
Senior officials also said on Tuesday that venues such as theme parks and exhibition centres might be allowed to reopen next week, and called on the public to join the citywide mass testing programme to strengthen overseas confidence in Hong Kong’s handling of the health crisis.
“The enhanced checking and active participation of the community [in mass testing] will give added comfort to our partners that Hong Kong is a safer place for such exchange,” commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah said.
“But I shouldn’t give members of the community a false illusion that [the travel bubbles] could be done within days. The situation remains fluid and could change depending on circumstances.”
Confirming an earlier Post report, officials said that from Friday restaurants would be able to seat four diners to a table, up from two. That same increase would apply to the number of people allowed to gather in public.
Premises given the nod to reopen from Friday include museums, mahjong parlours, ice-skating rinks, as well as most indoor and outdoor sport facilities, but not swimming pools or beaches.
“Unless there is a great resurgence of cases, the government will continue to relax more social-distancing measures,” health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said.
“The public should stay alert and not be complacent. The third wave has been going on for two months and is still continuing, as we still have silent carriers in the community.”
The new rules would remain in place for a week, expiring next Thursday, officials said.
It was also the first time in months that the administration had provided more details on its travel bubble plans, announcing it had made contact on the issue with 11 countries: Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Vietnam, France, Switzerland, Germany and Singapore. So far, the government has only entered bilateral talks with Japan and Thailand.
Edward Yau said: “These are places with which we have made initial contact, but whether travel bubbles can be established … would depend on a host of factors, including the epidemic situation and its containment in respective places.
“These countries involve those [who have their] situation under better control, it also includes some places [where] there is strong mutual [travel] interest.
“There will be no compromise on any sort of risk, if for instance, at the very last moment, even when things are ready, but if health authorities have reservations on lifting the ban, I think we would of course err on the safe side.”
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