Revellers will no longer need to show a negative result from a Covid-19 rapid test to enter bars and banquets, health authorities have announced. The capacity limit on restaurants and other premises will also be lifted, although a limit remains on the number of people allowed per table at eateries.

Addressing reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, Under Secretary for Health Libby Lee said the latest relaxations will come into effect on Thursday. “We hope to have some easing [of policies] but we also have to be careful about the pace,” Lee said.

mask covid
File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The rapid test requirement for bars, which required patrons to provide proof of a negative result from a rapid antigen test taken within the past 24 hours, was introduced in June. The rule was expanded to cover banquet guests in August.

Capacity limits on some specified premises – including performance venues – will be lifted from Thursday.

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Still, the city maintains rules long dropped in other parts of the world, including testing requirements for arrivals, masks both indoors and outdoors, and a 12-person limit on the number of people who are allowed to gather outside.

Proof of vaccination must also be shown upon entry to businesses, while students, health care workers and others must still take frequent – if not daily – rapid tests.

“[Masking] is a cost-effective measure against Covid and other respiratory diseases,” Lee said, adding that vaccination was a “good protection scheme” for the public.

Banquet restrictions eased

Meanwhile, limits on the number of people attending a banquet – for example a wedding or a corporate event – has also been scrapped. There is currently a cap of 240 visitors at banquets.

From Thursday, people will also be allowed to eat at outdoor sporting facilities and premises classed as “places of public entertainment.” However, limits on the number of people allowed per table in restaurants and bars remain capped at 12 and six, respectively.

Albert Au Libby Lee Gladys Kwan Covid-19 press conference December 20 2022
Albert Au (left), Libby Lee (centre), and Gladys Kwan at a Covid-19 press conference on December 20, 2022. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Lee added while the number of daily Covid-19 cases remained high, fluctuating between 14,000 and 15,000 over the past two weeks, that the situation had appeared to reach a plateau.

“We will seek every opportunity to relax the measures so that we can go back to a normal situation,” Lee said.

Gradual relaxations

The relaxations were the latest in a string of Covid-19 policy easing. Last week, the city scrapped a rule requiring visitors to scan their LeaveHomeSafe contact tracing app before entering restaurants and other businesses.

See also: Hongkongers adapt to life without Covid tracing app, but some question the need for Vaccine Pass scheme

The easing meant travellers to Hong Kong – who were prohibited from entering a number of premises after being issued with an amber-coloured QR code in the app upon landing – could go to restaurants and other businesses during their first thee days here.

Hong Kong also cut Covid-19 quarantine from seven to five days earlier this month, providing the patient could provide proof of negative Covid-19 tests taken on two consecutive days.

LeaveHomeSafe Covid-19
A LeaveHomeSafe QR code. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Speaking at a press conference earlier on Tuesday, Chief Executive John Lee said the gradual relaxation of Covid-19 measures was bringing “vitality” back to Hong Kong, pointing to a cycling race over the weekend that saw 5,000 gather to bike from Kowloon to the New Territories. The Sunday event marked the cyclothon’s return after a four-year hiatus.

“We see that people are getting more and more active and they are happier,” he said.

The city recorded 15,383 Covid-19 infections on Monday and another 39 related deaths.

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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.