Hong Kong will relax limits on gatherings in public places starting Friday, as the city’s number of new Chinese coronavirus cases has not increased since April, Hong Kong news broadcaster RTHK reported on Tuesday.
People will be allowed to go out in public in groups of up to eight. Bars, gyms, cinemas, beauty salons, massage parlors, and various other entertainment venues will be allowed to reopen from May 8, with some restrictions on their operations to remain in place until May 21. Karaoke bars and nightclubs will remain closed for an additional two weeks.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the lifting of restrictions on Tuesday, the same day that the city recorded no new coronavirus cases, with the total number of local infections remaining 1,040. As of Tuesday, Hong Kong had not reported a new local case of coronavirus (non-imported) since April 19.
Before Tuesday’s announcement, people who gathered in groups of more than four in a public place, indoors or outdoors, faced a maximum fine of up to HK$25,000 [U.S. $3224] and six months in prison. This strict measure was put in place starting March 29 when the city was experiencing a surge in new coronavirus cases, according to RTHK.
Now that Hong Kong’s coronavirus outbreak has seemed to stabilize, the city’s authorities say they are ready to start opening the city back up again.
At a coronavirus pandemic-related briefing titled “Hope on the Horizon” on Tuesday, Lam said it would be “unrealistic” for Hong Kong’s social distancing measures to remain in place until there are no new coronavirus cases whatsoever. She added that people have grown impatient under the city’s lockdown and that businesses have been eager to resume operations.
According to the briefing, restaurants may allow up to eight people to sit at the same table starting Friday, up from four currently. Other restrictions on restaurants, such as spacing tables at least 1.5 meters apart, will remain in place for now. Bars will reopen on Friday, but must operate at 50 percent of their capacity; no live bands or dancing in bars will be allowed for now.
Lam also confirmed an earlier report that Hong Kong schools will reopen in phases beginning May 27.
On April 26, when the ban on large gathering was still firmly in place, hundreds of people converged at a Hong Kong shopping mall for a pro-democracy demonstration. Hong Kong’s local government has grown increasingly authoritarian in recent years, prompting its citizens to organize pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the city in recent months. These gatherings were temporarily halted by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. April’s shopping mall protest was the first held since the pandemic disruption.