Hong Kong police have fined over 700 citizens for violating the government’s coronavirus gathering bans since late March, with pentalties totalling HK$1.41 million.

First reported by HKO1, as of Monday, police have issued 705 tickets of a fixed fine of HK$2,000 to people for breaching the restrictions. According to government data provided to HKFP on Tuesday, the force has also made 15 prosecutions in relation to violations of Cap. 599G.

"April 28 2020" IFC mall police
During a “sing with you” protest in the IFC mall on April 29, 2020, officers urge people in the mall to disperse, citing violations of the coronavirus gathering ban. Photo: Studio Incendo.

In late March, the government rolled out a ban on public gatherings of more than four people in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. The city at the time was facing a surge in infections, as Hongkongers living abroad returned home from hard-hit countries such as the UK and US.

The government eased the ban in early May by upping the limit from four to eight people. On Tuesday, the government announced to further relax its social distancing measures by allowing up to 50 people to meet in a public space, starting on Friday until July 2.

First detected in Hubei, China, over eight million people globally have been infected with Covid-19, whilst over 400,000 have died from the disease according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Hong Kong has recorded a total of 1,112 infections and four deaths as of Tuesday afternoon.

Yuen Long July 21 attack 9 months
A ticket of fixed penalty issued by police on Fau Tsoi Street in Yuen Long on April 21. Photo: Joshua Kwan/United Social Press.

Among the seven enforcement departments, the police force is the only one that has handed out tickets and made prosecutions. Other authorities – including the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) – have carried out inspections and gave warnings.

Government agencies enforcing the ban completed a total of 186,275 inspections and handed out 17,388 warnings over the past two months.

Number of inspections doneNumber of warnings givenNumber of fixed fine tickets issuedNumber of prosecutions made
Hong Kong Police Force6,51491070515
Department of Health7,4122100
Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department19,51897300
Leisure and Cultural Services Department142,13315,02000
Housing Department13523700
Home Affairs Department275000
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department10,22822700
Government cumulative figures on enforcement of Cap. 599G from March 29, 2020 to midnight of June 16, 2020.

Police have cited the gathering restrictions when denying applications for public meetings and processions, including the June 4 Tiananmen Massacre vigil in Victoria Park.

Officers also frequently dispersed crowds who gathered in shopping malls to join sing songs and chant slogans related to the anti-extradition bill movement and in opposition to the newly passed national anthem law and impending national security legislation to be promulgated by Beijing.

The Hong Kong government has the power to keep gathering regulations in place at least until August 31, when the ordinance is set to expire after being extended earlier this month.

tiananmen massacre vigil 31st 2020 june 4 victoria park
In defiance of a police ban, thousands of Hongkongers gather in Victoria Park to mark 31 years since the Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing on June 4, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo.

The chief executive and the city’s top health official have repeatedly dismissed claims that the government has extended the gathering ban for political reasons. The Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said on Tuesday that the tightening and relaxation of disease control measures were solely based on public health considerations.

“We have always adopted this ‘suppress and lift’ strategy. On the one hand, we want to strike a balance between public health protection, [the] economic impact as well as social acceptance,” she said.

“Our consideration is that now the general situation of the epidemic is relatively stable… we are trying to do more testing so we can understand more about the community situation.”

July 1 would normally mark the annual pro-democracy march organised by the Civil Human Rights Front – it is unclear whether it will go ahead.

The force does not keep records on whether those fined were protesters.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.