Hong Kong authorities are to raise the public group gathering limit from two to four people and relax a host of social distancing measures as the city recorded six new infections on Tuesday, indicating a slowdown of the third wave.

Officials also revealed at a press conference that the government is seeking to establish travel bubbles with 11 countries: Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand and Vietnam.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan at a press conference on September 8, 2020. Photo: Inmediahk.net, via CC 2.0.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan announced that authorities have decided to raise the limit on the number of customers allowed per table at restaurants from two to four; however, other restrictions – such as operating at a maximum of 50 per cent capacity – still apply.

Mahjong premises, amusement centres and most sports facilities except swimming pools will be allowed to open, although beaches will remain closed. The measures will come into effect on Friday and last seven days: “The third wave is entering two months already and we’ve yet to see an end to it. We still see new confirmed cases every day and there is quite a proportion of them with unknown sources. That goes to show we still have silent transmission chains in the community,” Chan said.

This came nearly a week after the government extended dining-in hours at restaurants from 9 pm to 10 pm and reopened fitness centres, massage parlours, clubhouses, amusement centres, as well as some sports facilities with restrictions.

Travel bubbles mulled

Sat next to the health secretary, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said potential travel bubbles would depend on mutual recognition of anti-coronavirus measures such as pre-boarding tests.

A lady carrying take-away passing a non-dine-in cafe in Hong Kong on July 30, 2020. Photo: May James/HKFP.

“The timetable would be a matter of bilateral agreement between Hong Kong and the partnering country. It all depends on how ready and how comfortable both parties are with the situation. Now, the question of how ready is also a matter of whether we can agree on the protocol,” he said.

Head of the Central for Health Protection Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said at a regular press conference that health authorities recorded six new infections on Tuesday, including three imported from Ukraine and the Philippines, as well as two related to previous cases.

A 90-year-old male patient also passed away at Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Tai Po at 8:57 am.

The city has been gripped by a surge in largely untraceable Covid-19 infections since July, triggering a partial shutdown and fresh round of social distancing measures. It has since seen a steady decline to double and single-digit daily figures.

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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.