Hong Kong will reintroduce a two-person limit in public and gatherings at private premises of more than two families will be banned from Thursday, as the city battles the fifth wave of Covid-19.

Other new measures announced on by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday to tackle the Omicron-variant outbreak include:

  • A sixth round of anti-epidemic subsidies totalling HK$26 billion will be rolled out – both businesses and individuals may benefit.
  • Religious venues, malls, department stores, supermarkets, wet markets and hair salons will be added to a list of premises under the city’s anti-epidemic ordinance. Starting from February 24, people entering these premises will be required to present the LeaveHomeSafe contact-tracing app and valid vaccination proof. Random checks will take place. For the time being, Lam said the requirement would not be extended to public transport.
  • Hair salons and religious venues to close from Thursday until February 24.
  • The fine for failing to undergo compulsory Covid-19 testing will be doubled from HK$5,000 to HK$10,000.
  • Only two people will be allowed to sit at tables at restaurants where only staff members are vaccinated.
  • The government will give a one-off payment of HK$10,000 to people suffering from temporary unemployment. Meanwhile, frontline workers fighting the pandemic – such as cleaners, security guards and airport cargo staff – will get HK$2000 per month for five months, starting from February.
  • The Employment Ordinance is to be amended to “avoid labour disputes” caused by anti-epidemic efforts. If employers fire staff for absences due to compulsory test orders or lockdowns, it will be seen as an “unreasonable dismissal” under the amended Labour regulations.
carrie lam press conference feb 8
Chief Executive Carrie Lam addresses media on February 8, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

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Lam said that she still believed that Hong Kong citizens will get vaccinated with the government’s encouragement, given the “inconvenience” caused by social distancing rules.

“I will not shy away, we are using strong means, because we have to protect Hong Kong,” she added.

‘Dynamic zero Covid’

Lam said on Tuesday morning that “dynamic zero Covid” was in the public interest.

“Some say that ‘dynamic zero Covid’ involves huge social and economic costs, but I’d like to say here that lives, health, and Hong Kong’s medical system not falling apart better fits Hong Kong’s public interest,” said Lam.

coronavirus covid-19 microscope virus cell
Covid-19 under an electron microscope. File photo: NIAID-RML.

“There are also some people saying that ‘dynamic zero Covid’ is not sustainable, but the our persistence now is for making use of this period to raise the vaccination rate, to avoid situations I just mentioned that will bring unbearable pressure and a serious blow to the medical system.”

Hong Kong reported 625 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, all but four were of local. origins All of the cases are suspected to be of the more-contagious but less lethal Omicron variant, aside from 15, suspected to be of the Delta variant. There are still currently 898 cases of unknown origins – more than 85 per cent are of the Omicron variant.

In total, Hong Kong has reported 16,022 infections and 213 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic over two years ago.

Correction 10/2: A previous version of this article suggested that the fine for breaking social distancing rules would double to HK$10,000. In fact, only the fine for failing to undergo compulsory testing will be doubled.

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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.