The authorities stepped up patrols and cracked down on public gatherings over the legal limit of two during the weekend. The joint-departmental enforcement operation came as Chief Executive Carrie Lam vowed “no mercy” on Friday for those breaching Covid-19 social distancing rules.

A plainclothes police officer (C) sets a cordon during an operation against people who fail to comply with social distancing measures at a subway in Hong Kong’s Central area on February 20, 2022, amid the city’s worst-ever coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Bertha Wang/AFP.

Officers cleared some 30 foreign domestic workers gathered in pairs on Sunday from a Central underpass, according to InMedia. Around five plainclothes police officers asked them to leave after orange tape was placed around the area.

Foreign domestic workers on their Sunday rest day sit under a sign about pandemic distancing measures in Central on February 20, 2022. Photo: Bertha Wang/AFP.

Police told InMedia that the domestic workers had gathered in groups of two, but had failed to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres between pairs so they were concerned for their personal safety. No fines were handed out, police said.

Officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the police, the Labour Department and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department were deployed to carry out enforcement action. Areas included Tamar Park in Admiralty, Central’s Edinburgh Place, a pedestrian zone on Chater Road, and Statue Square in Central, according to a Sunday press release.

Police officers (L) check on foreign domestic workers maintaining social distancing on their Sunday rest day in Central on February 20, 2022. Photo: Bertha Wang/AFP.

Sundays are typically the only day Hong Kong’s 370,000-odd foreign domestic workers have off a week. Legally, they must live with their employers. Thousands are therefore displaced on Sundays and so gather on sidewalks, overpasses and parks around the city.

A police officer requests a foreign domestic worker on her Sunday rest day to leave during an operation against people who fail to comply with social distancing measures in Mong Kok on February 20, 2022. Photo: Bertha Wang/AFP.

Temperatures dipped below 10 degrees Celsius over the weekend as rain continued throughout.

A police officer requests foreign domestic workers on their Sunday rest day to leave during an operation against people who fail to comply with social distancing measures in Mong Kok on February 20, 2022. Photo: Bertha Wang/AFP.

“The key to prevailing over the epidemic rests with every citizen’s effort and support. Members of the public, including the [domestic workers], should reduce unnecessary social contact to prevent escalation of the disease. Let’s fight the virus together,” the government spokesperson said in a Sunday press release.

Enforcement action against domestic worker gatherings over the weekend. Photo: GovHK.

In all, police issued 71 fixed penalty notices over the weekend for breaches of the group gathering rule, and 582 people were ticketed for not wearing a face mask properly.

Enforcement action against domestic worker gatherings over the weekend. Photo: GovHK.

The Labour Department issued nine fixed penalties to domestic workers for not wearing a face mask properly. They also distributed Covid-19 rapid test kits to domestic workers around Hong Kong Island.

Enforcement action against domestic worker gatherings over the weekend. Photo: GovHK.

Meanwhile, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department stepped up patrols to combat unlicensed hawking activity, issuing nine fixed penalty notices for public cleanliness offences. And the Leisure and Cultural Services Department meted out 640 verbal warnings and four tickets during 3,400 patrols of leisure venues.

Domestic workers in crosshairs

Whilst domestic workers have been in the crosshairs of the authorities, the Omicron variant was first discovered in the community last December after Cathay Pacific aircrew allegedly violated quarantine rules. The virus spread further following a January tapas party attended by top government officials as cases exploded at public housing estates.

Six officers approach two domestic workers to remind them of the group gathering limit of two people. Photo: GovHK.

On Saturday, an online campaign that raised over HK$107,000 for domestic workers handed Covid-19 fines for flouting the gathering ban was axed after a minister claimed campaigners “may be suspected of abetting a crime.” Organisers told HKFP that all funds will be returned to donors.

A separate fundraiser for domestic workers affected by hardship during Covid-19 has raised over HK$1 million. The campaign was launched by NGO Help for Domestic Workers.

Hong Kong has recorded 52,830 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and 290 deaths.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.