People visiting bars and clubs will soon have to show a negative Covid-19 test result from the past 24 hours in order to gain entry.

Announcing the requirement at a press conference on Tuesday, health chief Sophia Chan said the new policy was in light of outbreaks at nightlife establishments in recent days.

File Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The rule will come into effect on Thursday, and will tentatively be in place until June 29.

Chan added that the authorities had conducted “thousands” of inspections at dining establishments, including restaurants, bars and clubs, since June. Some businesses, it was found, were not complying with Covid-19 rules. With the new test requirement, Chan said the government would “of course, continue stepping up inspections.”

The Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene Irene Young said customers would have to provide a picture of their negative RAT test. The customer should write their name as well as the date and time that the test was taken on the cartridge, she said.

Young added that the practice of taking RAT tests before entry to a bar or club was “not new” to staff working at those establishments, as they are currently required to do so every three days. Students also have to show photos of RAT tests each day at school.

Bar cluster

Hong Kong increased checks after a series of outbreaks at bars and clubs – mostly in the Central and Sheung Wan areas.

In all, Hong Kong recorded 752 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, including 97 imported infections. FLM bar in Sheung Wan saw one more case, and Central’s Racks City saw four more infections, bringing the total number of cases to 25 and 22 respectively. An additional 134 infections were confirmed at schools, with another five seeing outbreaks.

‘Not easily policed’

Ben Cowling, an epidemiology professor at the University of Hong Kong, said that the new requirement “makes sense as an infection control measure, and similar policies have been used in other parts of the world, earlier in the pandemic.”

However, he added that the rule may not be easily policed: “I would prefer to see rapid tests being made freely and widely available to the public to facilitate their use.”

Ben Cowling. Photo: University of Hong Kong.

Following a decrease in daily Covid-19 cases, infections climbed over the past week, with 800-odd cases confirmed on two consecutive days on Saturday and Sunday.

Director of Health Ronald Lam said authorities had recorded six clusters – involving over 350 cases – since bars reopened last month.

He said the infection risk at bars was “higher” as customers tend to take off their masks for long periods, and the venues may be cramped: “Through investigation [we found that some] may have the habit of… going to a few different places in one night,” he said, adding that movements from one place to another could cause a “second or even third generation spread” of the virus.

Lam: No relaxations

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday morning that relaxations to Covid-related restrictions will be handled by the city’s next administration.

Lam said she was aware of the pleas from the public, especially from the business sector, to further ease social distancing measures, including relaxing quarantine and testing requirements. But she said the government had “stood its ground,” and decided the current rules would remain in place until June 29, with further arrangements to be made by incoming leader John Lee, who will be sworn in on July 1.

“It is not a question of whether I and my team have the political will to make that decision. Making a decision is not too difficult. But we have to appreciate and assess the effectiveness or the consequences of that decision,” Lam said.

Hong Kong health officials have said that a rise in Covid-19 cases was expected, while experts have urged the focus to be placed on the severity of infections, rather than daily numbers, as more cases of Omicron subvariants were identified.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.