Hong Kong has seen an estimated 1,200 restaurants temporarily suspend operations since the government introduced additional Covid-19 social gathering restrictions and may see up to 5,000 eateries suspend or halt operations if the government tightens rules again, an industry figure has said.

Photo: GovHK.

The food and beverage industry may expect an unemployment rate of up to 15 per cent in January, Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants & Related Trades chair Simon Wong said during an RTHK radio programme on Tuesday. The industry’s provisional unemployment figures until January stood at at 6.2 per cent, but there is a significant reporting delay, Wong said.

Unemployment rates in the food and beverage service industry topped the charts compared to all other sectors, according to the Census and Statistics Department’s latest figures released on Monday.

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The city has, thus far, seen around 200 to 300 restaurants close completely, Wong said, as they were left with some 20 to 30 per cent of their usual business after the government banned dine-in services after 6 p.m. and limited seating limit to two people per table at most venues.

New rules requiring visitors to display their vaccination record when entering venues – including shopping malls, supermarkets, restaurants – will roll out on Thursday. The measure will bar unvaccinated people from entering some two dozen types of venues and are expected to deal yet another blow to the city’s retail and food and beverage industries.

Parents and their children waited outside a Hong Kong public hospital on February 17, 2022. The city’s public health system was under strain as the city braced the fifth Omicron wave. Photo: Kenny Huang/Studio Incendo.

Since the restrictions kicked in, “business has plunged over a thousand feet at once,” Wong said. “If restaurants open for business, they will only be making a loss while operating.” Most employers in the industry laid off their part time workers because all banquets and weddings were cancelled, while many were placed on unpaid leave.

Worse than estimated

Separately, medical researchers at the University of Hong Kong revised their epidemiological projections for the city’s fifth Covid-19 wave, saying that its previous predictions had overestimated the effectiveness of various government control measures to suppress rising infection figures.

The latest revisions placed the peak daily infection figures at 182,923 per day by early to mid-March – 70,798 of which are expected to be asymptomatic cases, with 2,893 hospitalisations per day, according to the study led by Gabriel Leung, dean of the school of medicine.

The model indicated that the number of patients in seven-day isolation would go up to 625,000 and their close contacts in seven-day quarantine could reach over 1.87 million people.

The research team led by Professor Gabriel Leung, Dean of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong; Helen and Francis Zimmern Professor in Population Health and Chair Professor of Public Health Medicine, HKUMed, demonstrates the modelling of the fifth wave of COVID-19 in Hong Kong, and suggests ten measures to cope with it. Professor Joseph Wu Tsz-kei (left), Professor of Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, HKUMed, is one of the research team members. Photo: HKU.

The number of deaths could peak at about 100 a day by the end of March, reaching a total of 3,206. The authors said that, in the absence of much more intensive public health and social measures akin to a lockdown, “the trajectory of the fifth wave is unlikely to change substantially from its current course.”

First published on February 10, the study initially said the city may expect the wave to peak at around 28,000 infections by mid-March, with about 11,100 symptomatic cases and 468 hospitalisations.

Hong Kong recorded a total of 60,363 Covid-19 cases as of Monday and 311 deaths.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.