A Hong Kong man has been sentenced to 7.5 months behind bars, after he was found guilty of exposing other people to the risk of contracting Covid-19 by visiting restaurants and other public premises while he was infected.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building.
West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Magistrate Li Chi-ho on Thursday jailed Paul Lui Po-lam for seven months and 15 days, after he was convicted of nine counts of exposing other people to the risk of infection in February last year, local media reported.

Lui was said to have been to restaurants and supermarkets in Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok and to have taken the MTR six times between February 24 and 28, 2022, despite knowing that he had been infected with Covid-19. Eateries he visited included Maxim’s MX and Yoshinoya.

It was revealed during Lui’s trial in January that police found the defendant shared a post in a Facebook group entitled “Hong Kong Yellow Economic Circle” on February 24. In the post, Lui mentioned that he had a sore throat and that he would visit more “blue shops.”

The colours yellow and blue have been widely used to identify opposing political factions in Hong Kong, particularly in the wake of the 2019 extradition bill protests. Yellow was associated with pro-democracy movements, while blue was affiliated with supporters of the government and the police.

In late February 2022, Hong Kong was gripped by the fifth and worst wave of Covid-19, with tens of thousands of daily confirmed cases involving the highly contagious Omicron variant. The number of daily infections and the death toll soared in March and the city’s Covid-19 death rate was at one stage the highest in the developed world.

Covid-19 rapid antigen test RAT
Covid-19 rapid antigen test cassettes. File photo: Pexels.

Covid-19 patients in Hong Kong had been subject to hospitalisation or mandatory isolation at home or government quarantine facilities after they tested positive. The government stopped imposing compulsory quarantine on January 30 this year, citing a “sturdy” level of hybrid immunity in society and lower risk to public health from the virus.

According to local media, Lui, who had no legal representative, had denied 12 charges under the Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation. He argued that he had not received a nucleic acid test result or an isolation order from the government, adding the authorities did not recognise results from rapid antigen tests at the time.

In handing down Lui’s sentence, the magistrate dismissed the defendant’s arguments as “excuses,” saying he knew he was infected because he tested positive on a rapid test between February 24 and 26 and had shown symptoms.

Li also rejected Lui’s plea for a non-custodial penalty, local media reports said.

The defendent was “selfish,” Li remarked, ssaying the offences took place during the fifth wave and his actions could have caused the government’s anti-epidemic efforts to be in vain.

But the court acquitted Lui of three of the 12 charges, after the defendant said he was not sure if the rapid test result on February 27 was positive or negative. The court ruled the test result concerned would be considered negative to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt.

Local media reported that Lui is currently serving jail time for a separate case. The court ordered six months of the prison sentence handed down on Thursday to be served consecutively, meaning Lui would serve an additional six months on top of his existing term.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.