Hong Kong will ease social-distancing restrictions by allowing bars, nightclubs and karaoke parlors to re-open and operate past midnight only for vaccinated residents starting Thursday, as the government intensifies efforts to boost the city’s lackluster innoculation drive.Closed bars line a street at Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong, China
Staff and customers must have had received at least a first vaccine dose for the venues to open their doors, Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan told a briefing on Tuesday. Patrons will need to sign in using Hong Kong’s LeaveHomeSafe app.
The new rules will allow bars and nightclubs to remain open until 2 a.m., she said. Tables will be limited to just two people, with four people allowed in karaoke rooms. The government is also studying a new mobile app venues can use identify customers’ vaccination status, Chan said. “This vaccine bubble is a very important public health measure,” Chan said. “We can have a safe relaxation. But on the other hand, we can also mitigate the risk associated with the relaxation.”
While vaccine supply is abundant in Hong Kong, only about 11% of the population has gotten vaccinated with at least one dose, amid public distrust of the government and concerns about the efficacy of Chinese vaccines. The low inoculation rates could hamper the city’s efforts to reach the herd immunity crucial to fully reopening, prompting authorities to expand access to all adults and come up with measures favoring the inoculated to encourage more people to get jabs.
Restaurants will also be allowed to relax table limits and operating hours if staff are vaccinated, said Chan, but only in designated “zones” for inoculated customers. Eateries whose staff have all received their first vaccine doses will be allowed to extend their dine-in hours to 12 a.m. and have up to six customers per table in the zones. Patrons will be required to sign in via LeaveHomeSafe. Capacity will be limited to 50%.
Measures will be further relaxed for restaurants whose staff have had both vaccine doses and a waiting period afterward of 14 days, Chan said. Those eateries can operate until 2 a.m. and allow up to eight diners per table in the zones. Customers must be vaccinated with at least one dose and register to dine using LeaveHomeSafe. Capacity will be limited to 75%.
Capacity at companies’ annual general meetings with shareholders will also be relaxed to 50 people at indoor venues and 100 people at outdoor sites, Chan said. Participants aged 16 and above have to have completed their first vaccine doses, she said.
Pubs have been ordered shut since November but some have managed to operate until 10 p.m. by getting a license to serve food, while nightclubs have stayed closed. The ease in measures for those vaccinated comes after Hong Kong announced its long-awaited plans to introduce a quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore next month.