Hong Kong will reopen beaches and pools, masks will no longer be required during outdoor exercise, and restaurants will be allowed to sit eight people to a table from Thursday, as the city prepares to further ease Covid-related restrictions.
Bars and clubs will also be allowed to reopen on May 19, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced during a press conference on Tuesday.
“Considering the epidemic’s relative stability and the strong demands of people in this time, I further announce that the following three measures – which are part of the phase two social distancing measures – will be in effect two weeks earlier, from midnight on Thursday May 5,” Lam said.
The second phase of the government’s loosening of social distancing measures will officially begin on May 19. However, the reopening of beaches and pools, and the dropping of the mask rule during outdoor exercise, and the increased limit on the number of diners per restaurant table will come into effect on Thursday.
Bars, bathing houses, party rooms, night clubs, karaoke, mah jong parlours and cruises are set to resume operations on May 19. Restaurants will be allowed to open until midnight from May 19.
Government-managed beaches have been shut since mid-March, despite little evidence linking them to the spread of Covid-19 or any known cases of outbreaks internationally.
Lam said the decision to reopen them was based on people’s “strong demands.”
“The weather has turned cooler these two days, but the end of April saw record heat with temperatures reaching over 30 degrees,” she said. “So we were inclined to listen to people’s views.”
Explaining the loosening of table capacity at restaurants, Lam said the “point of consideration” was residents, not business owners.
“Mother’s Day is coming up, and this year after Mother’s Day there is the make-up holiday for Buddha’s Birthday,” Lam said. “We hope everyone has an enjoyable Mother’s Day, and that one table can sit eight people spanning three generations from the grandmother to the mother to the niece or nephew.”
The announcement on the relaxation of measures came as the local epidemic continues to ease in Hong Kong. Authorities recorded 283 Covid-19 cases recorded on Tuesday, the lowest count since early February.
“We see that the epidemic is gradually stabilising,” Lam said.
As coronavirus cases decline, Hong Kong has also begun easing some travel restrictions. The city reopened to non-residents on Sunday for the first time since early 2020. A flight suspension mechanism, which saw a seven-day route ban when five passengers test positive for Covid-19 on arrival, has also been modified to a five-day ban when three passengers test positive.
Hong Kong, however, still maintains some of the world’s strictest coronavirus border controls. Arrivals are not allowed to quarantine at home and must book a stay at a designated quarantine hotel for seven days even though they must be fully vaccinated to board their flight.
Phasing out restrictions
Lam laid out a loose timeline for the lifting of social distancing measures in late March, saying that the rules would be eased in three stages over the course of three months as long as infections continued on a downward trend. Hong Kong’s strictest restrictions to date were introduced in early January, shortly after the fifth wave of Covid-19 began.
The first phase of Hong Kong’s relaxation of restrictions began on April 21, with the reopening of businesses including gyms and beauty salons, as well as the return of dining in at restaurants after 6 p.m.
Authorities have not provided a date for the third phase of relaxations, or what it might entail.
Clarification 4/5: In a Wednesday statement, the government said that “unless exempted, group gatherings of more than four persons in public places will remain prohibited” from Thursday. Originally, Phase 2 of relaxations included a relaxation to groups of eight.