Hong Kong has announced a new round of relaxations to its Covid-19 social distancing measures that will see live entertainment return to bars and clubs. It is also planning on increasing the limit on public gatherings to 12 people.
Under Secretary for Health Libby Lee said during a press conference on Thursday afternoon that performers at would have to abide by a number of regulations, including taking two Covid-19 PCR tests every week, as well as a rapid antigen test before entering the venue. They would also need to keep their masks on “as far as possible,” Lee said, and maintain a distance from the audience.
The relaxation, which will come into effect next Thursday, marks an end to a ban on performances since Covid-19 restrictions were enforced more than two years ago.
Strict social distancing measures have hit Hong Kong’s music industry hard, with a June survey conducted by the Musicians Foundation finding that more than half of those employed in the industry suffered from anxiety and depression in the past year. A number of live-music venues have shuttered during the pandemic, including Peel Fresco and Sense 99.
Meanwhile, the government is also considering raising the cap on gathering limits to 12 from four. Group gatherings have been subject to limits since March 2020, with the limit reduced to two at times. When the policy was first introduced, former lawmaker Fernando Cheung, who has since left the city, said it was being used to suppress protests rather than stem the spread of the virus.
As the relaxation would involve an amendment to 599G – the laws relating to public gatherings under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance – the government will make an announcement on the 12-person gathering limit at a later date.
In response to a reporter about the risk of raising the cap from four to 12, Lee said limits could be increased slowly once “the disease is controlled or the immunity of the public is kind of guaranteed.”
In addition, eating will also be permitted in the outdoor areas of theme parks.
The loosening of restrictions came as Hong Kong reported an uptick in Covid-19 cases. According to the Centre for Health Protection’s Albert Au, the average daily number of cases in the past seven days was 4,509, a 30 per cent increase compared to the week before.
Meanwhile, there was a 32 per cent week-on-week increase of imported cases. Among those who arrived between September 26 and October 2, the latest time frame for which data was available, almost 5 per cent of arrivals tested positive for Covid-19.
Health authorities said the rise in cases was expected given that the city had implemented the “0+3” arrival policy last month, allowing incoming travellers to skip hotel quarantine and instead undergo three days of “medical surveillance” – whereby they can still go to work and school, but not certain premises, including restaurants.
As of Wednesday, the city has also recorded 29 cases of the Omicron XBB subvariant. Health officials, however, said there was no evidence to suggest that XBB caused more severe cases, citing the situation in Singapore.
Lee added that the real-time effective reproductive number for each Covid-19 case had risen past one – a threshold that suggests each infected patient will go on to infect more than one person on average – signalling perhaps an exponential increase in cases.
“Reducing it to below 1 depends on Hong Kong people’s cooperation [in fighting the epidemic]… it depends on the society’s immunity level,” Lee said, calling on Hongkongers to get the third Covid-19 jab if they have not already.
Hong Kong added 4,788 Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, among which 368 were imported. The city also saw nine more deaths among Covid-19 patients.
Correction 18:30: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of XBB cases recorded in Hong Kong. We regret the error.
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