Hong Kong is set to allow 30-person local tourism groups, amid a decline in cases of Covid-19 – however, social distancing measures banning gatherings of more than four people will remain in force.

Local tours consisting of no more than 30 people – including staffers – will be permitted from Friday onwards. Agencies are required to sign a charter promising to abide by certain rules before they can obtain the government’s approval for operating tours.

coronavirus covid masks
Photo: May James/HKFP.

Insurance for participants, taking body temperatures, and limited coaches to 50 per cent capacity will be required. Mandatory face masks, other than during eating and drinking, will also be required.

When challenged by a reporter about the difference between a 30-person local tour and a public assembly of the same number of people, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said that the government made the decision after considering the overall pandemic situation.

The risks are manageable for local tours, she told the press on Tuesday, as there are monitoring bodies in place such as the government Travel Industry Authority.

The Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau told the press that the Travel Industry Council may cancel the registration of agencies if they violate the social distancing rules listed in the charter.

Edward Yau
Edward Yau. Photo: GovHK.

The government will also launch the “Green Lifestyle Local Tour Incentive Scheme” – a plan delayed for months due to the pandemic. It aims to boost local tourism by offering agencies a HK$200 subsidy per tourist, Yau said.

Chan added that social and economic activities should be resumed amid the pandemic new norm. “The virus will co-exist with us for quite a while before effective treatment or vaccines can be produced.”

Other measures

Since late January this year, Hong Kong has seen over 5,250 patients testing positive for the virus and 105 deaths. Five positive cases were recorded on Tuesday, including one case with unknown local origins.

Ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government will not relax most of the social distancing measures for the time being. “We have to dovetail with the next stage of freer border crossing. On the safe side, there is no condition for the time being to further relax social distancing measures.”

carrie lam
Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Measures that are set to remain in force including mandatory face mask wearing in public, and restaurants may only operate at 50 per cent capacity, serving only four guests per table and closing at midnight.

Measures relaxed from this Friday include upping the limit of wedding participants to 50. Team sports will also be exempted from the group gathering ban.

More to follow.

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Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.