Several restaurants in Hong Kong whose owners were known to be sympathetic to the 2019 protests have been penalised for alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations.
They were ordered to halt dinner dine-in services for two weeks after some customers allegedly failed to scan the government contact-tracing app at the premises.
Police and staff from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) inspected the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of Kwong Wing Catering on Wednesday and imposed a 14-day dine-in ban after 6 p.m. for alleged breaches of regulations, according to the eatery on Facebook.
It was the third Kwong Wing Catering branch to be penalised within a week for similar alleged violations. The other two locations were the Mong Kok and Causeway Bay branches.
The restaurant wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that it expects the dine-in suspension order will cause it to lose business during the holiday season. It also anticipated that the authorities may inspect its remaining locations in Tsuen Wan and Yuen Long.
Kwong Wing Catering said it “would not be scared” of more inspections and would not be able to avoid punishment even if it abided by all regulations.
“A lot of customers [sent messages] to my inbox and told me not to feel disheartened. I won’t! Because if I get demoralised then I will fall into their trap,” a post on Kwong Wing Catering’s Facebook page read.
Kwong Wing Catering has been labelled as a “yellow” restaurant – a colour representing the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong. Its storefronts were covered with colourful memo stickers which formed a pro-democracy message board – or a “Lennon Wall” – during the anti-extradition bill protests in 2019. The company also made social media posts about alleged police misconduct during the months-long unrest.
Last Friday, police inspected the Kwong Wing Catering branch in Mong Kok and found that one male customer did not scan the LeaveHomeSafe app as required by the government. The expanded mandatory use of the app, which has sparked data privacy concerns, came into force on December 9 as part of the city’s effort to resume quarantine-free travel with mainland China.
The inspection was “suspicious,” the eatery wrote on Facebook, saying police arrived less than 20 minutes after the customer concerned sat down. After reviewing security footage, Kwong Wing Catering said the male customer came in with another person, who did scan the app. That person then put the device in the man’s backpack while he appeared to be searching for his phone. He eventually presented his companion’s phone to the restaurant staff.
“A ‘fair’ legislation, together with targeted inspection and the customer paying just HK$5,000, can already force a restaurant to halt dinner dine-in services for 14 days,” Kwong Wing Catering wrote on Facebook two days after its Mong Kok branch was penalised.
The suspension order slapped on each branch will cause a six or seven digit financial loss, the restaurant estimated, adding that staff may have to be laid off. It also raised questions on the regulation, asking how eateries can ensure that their customers will not delete the Covid-19 app while still on the premises and hence breach the rules.
“To be honest, no restaurant can avoid it. Has this so-called legislation always been a legislation forcing restaurants to break the law? Or is it just a tool?” the eatery asked.
A number of “yellow” eateries have been barred from providing dine-in services after 6 pm during the holiday season after the authorities alleged that some customers failed to comply with the Covid-19 app requirement, according to Citizen News.
The affected restaurants included Kabo Burger, Dine Inn, Explorer Fusion Restaurant, Thai Cool, DK Pizza Cafe, WE TIME CAFE, Santgria Kitchen and more.
As of Wednesday, the FEHD has inspected catering premises across the city 6,393 times since the new Covid-19 app scanning requirement was rolled out on December 9, the department told HKFP on Thursday.
During the visits, the FEHD made 40 prosecutions, of which 16 involved the restaurants’ failure to ensure their customers scanned the contact-tracing app before entry. The department also meted out five HK$5,000 tickets to customers who breached the regulation.
The department said restaurant proprietors have the responsibility to “take all reasonable steps” to check the information provided by customers. If they have treated the information with due diligence, they will not be held liable, the FEHD said.
“The FEHD will review every case to ensure there is sufficient evidence for prosecution. The industry does not need to be too worried,” the department wrote in an email to HKFP.
In response to HKFP’s enquiries, police said officers made a total of 292 inspections and reports on catering premises in Hong Kong between December 9 and Tuesday. During the inspections, 14 prosecutions and five warnings were made in relation to the scanning of the Covid-19 app or customer data registration, while 84 fixed fine tickets were issued for the alleged app rules violations.