Hong Kong has announced it will ease some social distancing measures from next Thursday, as health officials said the Covid-19 pandemic was stabilising in the city.

Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

Among the rules being relaxed, restaurants will be allowed to seat up to 12 people per table, instead of the current limit of eight. Bars, pubs and nightclubs can seat up to six per table, up from four currently, but patrons will still be required to present a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) result conducted within 24 hours to enter.

The maximum number of people for banquets and events meanwhile will be increased from 120 to 240 – also requiring a negative RAT result conducted within 24 hours.

Photo: GovHK.

Groups of 12 will also be allowed at other scheduled premises, including gyms, beauty parlours and party rooms. At present, the maximum allowed is eight people.

Authorities will also permit cruises to resume from next Thursday. Hong Kong’s “cruises to nowhere,” which return to the same port they departed from, were suspended in January.

‘In situ isolation’

At the presser, the government also announced an “in situ isolation” arrangement for inbound travellers who test positive after arriving in Hong Kong under the latest “0+3” measure.

From Monday, travellers have not been required to go through mandatory hotel quarantine, instead undergoing three days of “medical surveillance” at home or at a hotel, during which they will be allowed to go out, subject to PCR requirements.

Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The “in situ” arrangement means if arrivals who have opted to undergo medical surveillance period at a hotel test positive for Covid-19 but show no severe symptoms, they can choose to isolate at the same hotel, as long as the premises agree. This will prevent Hong Kong’s public hospitals from being overburdened, authorities said.

Travellers, however, have to pay out of their own pocket for the isolation. Those who cannot arrange in situ isolation will be sent to a designated isolation hotel.

Undersecretary for Health Libby Lee. Photo: Screenshot, via RTHK.

Undersecretary for Health Libby Lee said the concept of in situ isolation was similar to allowing home quarantine for infected Hong Kong residents, and the risks were manageable as only a small percentage of inbound travellers were found to be infected with Covid-19. She added the measure “minimised the need for transportation” and thus “minimised the spread” of the virus.

“The government will actually go to the hotel industry to educate [them] on how to prevent the spread, what measure they have to introduce in order to minimise the outbreak in the hotel,” Lee said. “We will keep an eye on that, and see whether there will be any outbreak after [the] introduction of this arrangement.”

She said authorities had contacted 60 hotels which originally served as designated quarantine hotels, and 30 said they would accommodate in situ isolation requests.

‘Return to normalcy’

The DAB, the city’s largest pro-establishment party, welcomed the relaxation, but called on the government to ease more restrictions to “create a good condition and environment for society and the economy to return to normalcy.”

The party proposed extending dine-in services and scrapping the limits on capacity for venues such as bars, pubs, places of worship and museums.

The DAB also suggested axing the Vaccine Pass requirement at premises subject to only passive checking, meaning those where a patron’s vaccination record is not scanned upon entry, such as supermarkets.

Hong Kong recorded a total of 4,023 Covid-19 infections on Friday, of which 213 were imported. There were also eight new reported deaths. The city has seen more than 1.76 million infections since the pandemic began in early 2020.

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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.