Residents and small business owners grappling with a fourth wave of coronavirus infections in a hard-hit Hong Kong district were preparing on Friday for a possible lockdown affecting thousands of people, in what would be the first such move in the city.

The Yau Tsim Mong district has for more than a week been the main focus of efforts to combat the virus. On Friday last week the government announced that residents of a designated area in the district must undergo a test following an outbreak at a walk-up building.

Residents shopping for food at a wet market on Reclamation Street. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Following reports of a lockdown, HKFP on Friday took a trip into the designated area in Yau Ma Tei to see how locals were reacting.

A resident who would not give her name said that while she was not overly worried about a possible lockdown, she was buying more food than usual. “The food here is enough for a couple of days,” she said, pointing to her purchases. “I’ve already been tested a couple of times, I’m not that worried about not being able to get out of the lockdown.”

Residents shopping for food at a wet market on Reclamation Street. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

A mobile testing site on Canton Road was opening for its last day of service, but not many people were queuing up. According to volunteer Mr. Meng, the testing stations were busiest during the evenings when people leave work.

Mr. Lau, who was waiting for his wife to get tested in one of the stations, told HKFP he was worried about the outbreak in the area, and the government should not have told residents beforehand if it planned to impose a lockdown. “I think if they are going to impose a lockdown, don’t tell people beforehand. People will be gone by then,” said Lau.

A Covid-19 mobile testing station on Canton Road. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Ms. Lee, who lives in Charming Garden, an estate near Jordan which is under a compulsory testing order, was dissatisfied with the instructions given at the testing station. She said volunteers there could not find her building on the list of those subject to a compulsory testing order.

“Their instructions have to be clear. Even if they could not find the name of the building on the list, volunteers should be alert that Charming Garden was on the list, and inform their supervisor that the name was missing on today’s list,” said Lee.

People queuing up at a mobile testing station on Canton Road. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

She added that she was worried about getting infected when undergoing a test in Yau Ma Tei since there were no testing stations set up near her own estate. “If we assume that the designated area was an infected area, it might increase our risk if we have to come all the way here for a test.”

Officials from the Buildings Department waited outside a building to inspect its plumbing. Photos: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Buildings Department officials in protective gear were seen waiting to inspect the plumbing of a building on Reclamation Street. On Shanghai Street, workers cleared out clinical waste from a building with confirmed cases.

A contractor van from hired by the Department of Health clearing out clinical waste from a building with confirmed coronavirus cases. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Earlier in the week HKFP talked to residents and workers about the impact of the pandemic on their daily lives.

Yau Ma Tei Temple Street. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Yau Ma Tei is home to Temple Street Night Market, an once-vibrant and internationally famous area which attracted both tourists and locals. But since the beginning of the pandemic last year, the number of tourists has plummeted due to travel restrictions imposed by the Hong Kong government.

A more common scene at Temple Street Night Market. File photo: Diego Delso, via Wikicommons.

Following the coronavirus outbreak in the district, even locals stopped going to the market, striking another blow to the businesses in the area.

Temple Street Night Market on 20 January 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“Because we mainly do tourism business, our business already suffered a blow when the government closed the border and the tourists stopped coming…Now that this district became an infected area, the hit was even greater,” Mr. Chan, an assistant at a stall on Temple Street, told HKFP on Wednesday.

He said many stalls were shut as owners felt it was not worth the effort to open.

The stall that Mr. Chan was working as an assistant in. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“The government once had a relief scheme for stall owners. I think they could do something similar again to help these stalls,” Chan said.

Licensed hawkers were entitled to apply for an one-off subsidy of HK$5,000 from the Anti-epidemic Fund last year. No more help specifically for staff owners has been announced since then.

A restaurant in Yau Ma Tei offering discounts to diners for takeaway food. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The once-packed restaurants and open-air food stalls known as dai pai dongs are also suffering.

The government has extended a citywide ban on dine-in services after 6pm in restaurants until January 27. Officials said it was unlikely to be lifted before Lunar New Year.

Since the outbreak in Yau Ma Tei, only a few customers have been spotted buying takeaways, even though restaurant owners and staff stand outside to entice customers, some offering discounts of up to one third.

Empty streets in Yau Ma Tei. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Yau Ma Tei also hosted many mahjong parlours and other entertainment venues, which were all forced to shut from December under social-distancing regulations.

The streets were even quieter than normal during HKFP‘s visit as many shops and restaurants temporarily closed down for several days, citing concerns over the pandemic in the district.

Sign outside a restaurant in Yau Ma Tei which reads “The pandemic is serious, resting for a couple of days, opening as normal on Monday.” Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Some residents were confused about whether they were among those who must take a Covid-19 test and asked our reporter to confirm if they were on the list.

Diana, who lives on Temple Street, said she was worried about getting fined for not taking a test since she was not sure if her building was listed for compulsory testing.

A list of buildings under the compulsory testing order stuck outside the gate of a residential building on Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“Right now there is no (coronavirus) positive in this area, but I’m just worried because I saw this one (on the list of buildings) in the morning. If you did not do the swab test, you have to pay HK$5,000, and then you have to go to jail,” she said.

Despite being unsure whether she had to take a test, Diana said the government’s instructions overall were “okay” and not confusing so far.

A list of buildings under the compulsory testing order stuck outside the gate of a residential building on Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Apart from government-issued lists, many buildings also displayed a multilingual poster drawn up by district councillors and giving residents the latest updates.

Many people in Yau Ma Tei are from ethnic minorities, and the government stirred controversy when a senior official at the Centre for Health Protection suggested they were engaging in “behaviour that put them at risk.

Multilingual poster informing residents of the area included in the compulsory coronavirus testing order. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Documents in different languages were pinned to the gates of multiple buildings informing residents of testing arrangements in the district.

Mr. Rukan, a refugee living in Yau Ma Tei, told HKFP he was “a little bit” worried about the cluster of cases in the area but took extra precautions such as wearing a mask even when exercising outside.

Residents playing badminton on the streets in Yau Ma Tei. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.