Hong Kong enforced the most stringent round of anti-epidemic measures yet on Wednesday, in a bid to curb the third wave of coronavirus. Meanwhile, the city’s infection tally surpassed 3,000 as the chief executive urged citizens to remain at home.
Across the city, Hongkongers were forced to eat outdoors as the government ban on dine-in services at restaurants kicked in. Photos from local media and the internet showed many people – especially construction workers – sitting on the sidewalks, in gutters and in parks finishing their lunchtime takeaway meals.
Some citizens were seen eating in a park during a downpour, while a photo of a man kneeling down to dine was widely circulated on social media.
The Construction Site Workers General Union – which asked its members to submit photos of how they had lunch on Wednesday – slammed the dine-in ban as “reckless.” The union said that most frontline workers did not have an indoor office where they have lunch. The hygiene standards of construction sites are often appalling and are thus not acceptable places for workers to eat, the union said.
“During the sweltering summer, asking workers to eat under the sun and rain is not only inhumane, it also leads to different kinds of hygiene issues. The situation is worrying,” the union said on Tuesday.
The government’s latest dine-in ban was criticised by both pro-democracy and pro-establishment lawmakers. Democrat Claudia Mo told HKFP that two-persons per table at eateries should be allowed: “Miserable, unthinking, unfeeling bureaucrats taking Hong Kong down the drain.”
Pro-Beijing legislator Ann Chiang wrote on Facebook that the measures caused a major issue for construction workers: “Not sure how the chief executive, the secretaries of departments and the directors of bureaux feel!” Chiang said.
On Monday, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung said at a press conference that citizens could buy lunch and eat in the office. He said: “Now many people buy lunchboxes back to the office building to eat.”
He also said that country parks remain open.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, on the other hand, urged Hongkongers to stay home in a video message to the public on Tuesday night: “Anti-epidemic measures have caused difficulties and inconvenience, but in order to protect our loved ones, our healthcare staff and Hong Kong, I appeal to you to follow strictly the social distancing measures and stay at home as far as possible,” she said.
Numerous district councillors opened their offices to the public and offered assistance to people who were looking for a place to have lunch. Wan Chai District Councillor Leung Pak-kin said on Facebook that he could only provide two tables each for two persons, and asked people who were interested to leave him a message to reserve seats.
When approached by HKFP, Leung said he did not have much to say about his gesture, adding that he wanted to provide a place for people to eat “in dignity.”
Some churches – including the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Wan Chai – also offered to open their venue to citizens in need. It said on Facebook that people were welcomed to “pray, rest and eat” at the church from 7 am to 10 pm.
Death toll rises
On Wednesday, Hong Kong registered 118 new coronavirus infections, pushing the city’s total number of confirmed cases to 3,002. The death toll also rose to 24 as two more Covid-19 patients passed away.
Among the new cases, five were imported while the 67 were linked to previous local infections. The health authorities were still tracing the sources of 46 locally-acquired infections.
In response to the recent surge, the government also made mask-wearing mandatory in all outdoor areas, while citizens can only gather in a pair in public spaces under the updated gathering restrictions.
Social media shaming
As the new measures were rolled out, some citizens began to post photos of people who were not wearing masks on social media. In a post in the Tai Po community Facebook group, one man who appeared be a staffer for delivery company Food Panda was criticised for not covering his face.
“Today is the first day [of the compulsory mask-wearing rule], it’s fine that he’s not wearing a shirt, but he’s not wearing a mask too? Good job, Food Panda,” the post read.
Some netizens commented and said people should report the man, while another commenter questioned whether wearing a face mask was for fighting the epidemic or for preventing oneself from being “denounced.”
The city’s health minister has admitted that data from experts showed that the current outbreak may be related to the government’s quarantine exemption list. Over a quarter of a million trips made by airline and sea crew members, along with government officials, truck drivers and company executives have been exempt from the rules between February and June, according to government data.