Hong Kong is to relax its coronavirus social distancing measures, with the cap on public gatherings raised to eight people and certain businesses allowed to reopen under conditions.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Tuesday that the adjusted measures will be enacted on Friday after the current guidelines expire.
Beauty salons, game centres, gyms, cinemas, mahjong parlours and public entertainment venues will be allowed to resume business, subject to extra precautions including temperature checks, the use of surgical masks and restrictions on the number of customers. However, karaoke facilities, night clubs and party rooms will remain shut.
Restaurants and other catering facilities must continue to adhere to the 1.5-metre distancing rule between tables, though the limit on the number of customers per table will be raised from four to eight.
Schools will also resume classes in stages from May 27, starting with secondary students from Form Three to Form Five. On June 8, pupils from Primary Four to Six and secondary Form One and Form Two will return, followed by those from kindergarten level three and Primary One to Three on June 15.
Meanwhile, the government has pledged to distribute locally-developed reusable masks – dubbed “CU masks” – lined with Copper, for free to all Hong Kong residents. In addition, 10 disposable masks will be sent to each household by post, no registration required.
Hong Kong authorities have faced a growing chorus of complaints as businesses struggle to stay afloat following the weeks-long closure of salons, fitness centres and entertainment facilities.
Lam said although the risk of local transmission had decreased, members of the public should remain cautious: “General opinions including those from experts conclude that now is an appropriate time to relax social distancing measures. But the epidemic situation may relapse and we should not become slack.”
Asked whether the resumption of classes was premature, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said authorities made the announcement three weeks in advance in order to allow for preparations.
“During this period we will, of course, continue to monitor the situation and, if necessary, we can adjust the resumption plan,” he said. “But at this stage, we are still pretty confident that we should be able to resume classes on May 27.”
The city has recorded 1,040 cases of infection and four deaths since the start of the outbreak of the coronavirus, first detected in Hubei province, China.
Health authorities have cautioned against interpreting a two-week lull in local infections as a sign that the chain of transmission has been broken. During this period, all newly-confirmed cases have been imported.