Hong Kong is to ease coronavirus restrictions on dining-in at restaurants and reopen certain recreational facilities including gyms, as health authorities record the lowest figure for daily new infections in nearly two months.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan announced on Wednesday that fitness centres, massage parlours, clubhouses, amusement centres and some sports facilities would be allowed to open with restrictions from Friday until next Thursday. But karaoke rooms, bathhouses, swimming pools, bars and mahjong parlours will remain closed.

Citizens sitting two by two as social distancing measure against the coronavirus in a restaurant in Hong Kong on August 23, 2020. Photo: May James/HKFP.

“After careful consideration, we have decided to slowly and gradually relax some of the current measures,” Chan said at a press conference. “For those of the premises we have opened, it is largely sports premises because we gather many people would like to do some exercise and some sports in the midst of the epidemic… doing some exercise would bring about physical as well as mental health [benefits].”

Restaurant dining hours will also be extended from 9 pm to 10 pm following feedback from the public. Service providers must also wear protective equipment.

The cap on group gatherings will be raised to four for certain sports facilities – including fitness classes – but will otherwise remain at two. All equipment must be disinfected after use. Mask-wearing will still be mandatory, including during exercise.

Massage parlours must maintain a minimum 1.5 metre distance between tables or chairs.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan speaks to reporters on September 2, 2020. Photo: Inmediahk.net, via CC 2.0.

This came as the Hospital Authority confirmed the deaths of two patients in the morning. They included the passing of a 66-year-old man at 7.55 am at Yan Chai Hospital and a 79-year-old man with chronic illnesses at 8.05 am at United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong.

The Centre for Health Protection later reported eight new local cases, including four that could not be traced. The figure follows weeks of double-digit daily infections, which reached an all-time high at the end of July.

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.