Hong Kong’s first lockdown to combat the coronavirus ended two days ago but Temple Street remained quiet and uncongested on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, as restaurateurs reeled from the after-effects of the weekend shutdown and a continuing evening dining ban.
Many restaurants and stores in formerly locked-down Jordan shut down for the Tuesday lunch hour despite the lifting of lockdown restrictions, since there was just not enough business to go round.
Frustrated business owners said they lost thousands of Hong Kong dollars from the lockdown but it wasn’t worth their trouble to seek compensation from the government.
“Can you see how empty this street is? Where do we begin to count our losses?” Ms Lau, who works at a congee and noodle joint on Nanking Street, told HKFP.
As a resident of the neighbourhood, she had to stay home for two days when the government imposed the lockdown from 4 am Saturday in an attempt to curb a Covid-19 outbreak in the area. She wasn’t paid for the days the congee shop remained shut.
“We are upset for our boss too,” she said. “The boss operates at a loss just to feed us.”
Thousands of workers in hazmat suits patrolled the once-bustling blocks bordered by Kansu Street, Battery Street, Nanking Street and Woosung Street to impose the lockdown over the weekend, after the number of Covid cases in the neighbourhood doubled.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said on Saturday that businesses who suffered losses would not receive any compensation. The operation identified 13 positive cases after around 7,000 residents were tested during the two-day shutdown.
When HKFP visited on Tuesday, Ms Lau was eating stir-fried cassava – a starchy root – for lunch.
Hong Kong eateries have struggled to remain afloat since the government in early December re-imposed a ban on dining in after 6pm. Up until 6pm only two people are allowed per table. The restrictions were extended on Tuesday for another week.
“We are so miserable,” Ms Lau said. “I’m just eating these, do you know what this is ? You think there will be meat ? Our boss can’t even afford to give us meals with vegetables and meat.”
Mr Ho, who operates Ah Lung Pakistan Halal Food on Woosung Street, said he lost two days of revenue, between HK$10,000-12,000 in total. “It’s useless to chase the government for compensation. If there were any, they’d have given it by now,” said Mr Ho.
Yau Tsim Mong District Council chairman Andy Yu told reporters he had received complaints from about 30 business owners in the area, whose losses totalled about HK$500,000. The group sought government compensation for each business of either HK$20,000, or about half of their individual losses. “We’re not putting the bite on the government,” he said. “It’s a reasonable demand,”
Further north in the neighbourhood, just behind the traditional Chinese-style archway marking the start of Temple Street, the owner of Indian restaurant Tandoori House, Naresh Ratudi, said the two days had meant a revenue loss of just HK$4,000-5,000 because business was so poor anyway. “I have to work another job as a chef in Tung Chung in order to pay the rent,” he said.
The Jordan restaurant owners said their most pressing need was for the government to lift the evening ban on dining in, and not cash handouts. “How does the government explain that you could dine-in in the morning but not in the evening? ” asked Ms Lau. “Does the virus only come at a particular hour? It’s not logical.”