Anyone attending banquets – where more than eight people dine together – will have to present proof of a negative result from a Covid-19 test to enter the premises from Sunday, in line with the same policy for pub- and club-goers.

The new measure was announced as Hong Kong’s health secretary warned that the medical system was facing increasing pressure as case numbers rose.

Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

Health secretary Lo Chung-mau announced the tweaks to the city’s anti-epidemic measures during the regular Covid-19 press briefing on Friday.

Hong Kong reported more than 7,800 infections and seven deaths on Friday. The health chief predicted that the daily case number could climb to above 10,000 soon.

‘Banquet’ diners

Lo said all diners at a “banquet” must show proof of a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) taken within 24 hours. People can show a photo of the test result with their name, the date and the time the test was taken on it.

When asked what counted as a banquet, Lo said it referred to any gathering “with eight people or more and requires two tables.”

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau.

“Right now the [limit] is eight people per table. So a group of people sharing a same goal to dine at a restaurant, that is a banquet. It does not have to be [a] massive [gathering],” Lo said.

A negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) taken within the preceding 48 hours can be used as an alternative for the RAT result. There will be no exemptions for anyone, including elderly residents. Lo said if anyone had difficulty conducting a test at home, they could undergo a test at the premises, with the help of family or staff, before they enter.

Strengthened testing

Other measures included stepping up testing across the city, especially among high risk groups. Lo said the Hospital Authority was looking the possibility of having key healthcare workers undergo PCR testing every other day.

Currently, medics taking care of high-risk patients and those in the psychiatry and infirmary departments must be tested twice a week.

The proposal came after the government announced earlier this week that workers at care homes for the elderly and people with disabilities would have to take a PCR test every other day, from August 31.

Currently, employees of catering premises are required to conduct a rapid test every three days. The requirement will be extended to cover workers of all scheduled premises.

Lo urged all Hongkongers to take Covid tests more often, so that infections could be spotted earlier.

Quarantine unvaccinated elderly

Residents aged 70 or above who have not received a Covid-19 vaccination, or who have only received one dose, will be sent to designated quarantine facilities if they are listed as a close contact under the change in policy.

Lo said he understood it may be “inconvenient” to make the elderly leave their home, but it was “for their own good,” as they would be better protected and cared for in those facilities.

Coronavirus vaccination in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Lo said the mortality rate of unvaccinated elderly, or those only with one dose, could be as high as 16 per cent if they were infected.

Depending on the development of the epidemic, the health chief said the government would not rule out further tightening social distancing measures.

Hong Kong has reported 1,495,807 infections and 9,650 deaths since the pandemic began.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.