Hong Kong’s swimming pools and beaches are set to reopen on Thursday as the fourth wave of Covid-19 subsides, Hong Kong authorities announced on Monday.

Most other measures will be extended for two weeks, such as compulsory mask wearing, group gathering limits and limitations at restaurants. Bars, karaoke venues and mah-jong parlours will remain closed, though religious gatherings will be allowed up to 30 per cent of the venue capacity, Secretary for Food and Health announced at a press briefing.

From Thursday, Cinemas, performance venues and theme parks may fill their venues by up to 75 per cent capacity – up from 50 per cent.

Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan said that most social distancing measures will remain in place until after the Easter holidays as not to “undo” the city’s pandemic prevention efforts so far: “We must keep patient and keep up our efforts for a little longer.”

The easing of some rules came as the city’s daily cases fell to single figures and the fourth wave of infections faded. The city is expected to report 10 new infections, including one of unknown origins on Monday. The city reported no new locally-transmitted cases over the weekend.

kowloon park swimming pool
Kowloon Park Swimming Pool. Photo: lcsd.gov.hk.

Children’s play facilities and other sports venues will also be “progressively” opened by the leisure department, Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui announced: “We are grateful to the people of Hong Kong for their forbearance,” he said.

Tsui also called on members of the public to heed the current social distancing measures and to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Travel arrangements

For arrivals from low risk countries – namely Australia, New Zealand or Singapore – they will be able quarantine for 14 days at a designated hotel, rather than 21. They must then undergo seven days of self-quarantine at their own residence.

Restrictions on arrivals from the UK will also be axed, as the pandemic eases, Chan said. Arrangements will be made for Hongkongers stranded in the UK to return – hopefully towards the end of April, she added.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said that travel bubble arrangements with 16 countries are under discussion: “We are reaching a critical moment in our anti-pandemic work, we cannot slacken our efforts,” Yau said.

Coronavirus covid-19 virus
Photo: GovHK.

Community rebound?

Earlier on Monday, medical experts warned against relaxing social distancing measures before the Easter holidays, saying restrictions should only ease when the city reports no locally-transmitted infections for a longer period of time to avoid a rebound in community spread: “I think we need to wait until next week before regularly seeing zero unknown cases… and four more weeks may be needed to break off the chain of silent community transmission,” respiratory diseases doctor Leung Chi-chiu told RTHK.  

The city’s schools are expected to resume face-to-face classes after the Easter holidays on half-day arrangements and a limited numbers of students allowed on school grounds at the same time.

The ebb in infections also came as the city is expected to resume BioNTech vaccinations city-wide “as soon as possible” after the scheme was halted last Wednesday pending an investigation into a batch with defective packaging. Around 442,900 people had received their first vaccination doses while 18,500 had received their second Sinovac dose as of Sunday evening.

More to follow.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.