Coronavirus: Hong Kong to close beauty and massage parlours amid Covid-19 spread

Zoe Low

Beauty and massage parlours in Hong Kong must close for 14 days from Friday, the government has declared, after three such venues were linked to confirmed Covid-19 cases.

In addition, an earlier ban on gatherings of more than four people at public venues such as restaurants has been extended until April 23. The moves on Wednesday came as the city reported 25 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total to 960.

Meanwhile, television station TVB announced its annual Miss Hong Kong Beauty Pageant would be cancelled this year, the first time in 48 years the event will not proceed.

Sandy Yu Wing-shan, a member of TVB’s management and the event's organiser, said in an interview with local media the decision was made so contestants who returned from abroad or mainland China would not have to take the risk of travelling during the pandemic.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said at a press briefing on Wednesday she hoped the new round of closures, along with the extended ones, could “effectively break the transmission chain of the virus”.

Four people working in at least three beauty parlours have been confirmed with Covid-19. No confirmed infections are known to be linked to massage parlours.

I think we have to balance the need to close them as soon as possible versus allowing the concerned parties to have some minimal preparation

Undersecretary for Food and Health Dr Chui Tak-yi

Responding to questions on why the government did not close down such places earlier, Undersecretary for Food and Health Dr Chui Tak-yi said that it was to give businesses time for preparation. Last week authorities closed down mahjong parlours and karaoke lounges without notice.

“I think we have to balance the need to close them as soon as possible versus allowing the concerned parties to have some minimal preparation,” Chui said this time, pointing out that operators had to inform their clients of the arrangements.

“Based on previous experience and feedback from stakeholders, we decided to allow a limited time for preparation. So it has been decided that the move will come into effect on Friday midnight,” Chui said.

A beauty salon in Mong Kok. Photo: May Tse

Among the new infections reported on Wednesday was a 57-year-old operations assistant of Shek Wu Hui Jockey Club General Out-patient Clinic in Sheung Shui. The infected woman did not travel recently, nor were there any Covid-19 cases at the facility.

“She mainly helped with the cleaning work at the clinic. She did not have direct contact with patients and had no contact with any deep-throat saliva samples,” said Dr Sara Ho Yuen-ha, the Hospital Authority’s chief manager for patient safety and risk management.

So far five other employees at the clinic and the two sons of the infected woman were considered as close contacts and would be placed under quarantine.

The Shek Wu Hui clinic and another one in Ta Kwu Ling have been closed down as the woman had worked in both places.

Forty-five other staff members who had worked in both clinics were also tested, and results are pending, but some of them had displayed signs of upper respiratory infection, including three with more serious conditions who were sent to hospital.

Other cases on Wednesday included a two-month-old baby boy, who went to Britain with his parents and their domestic helper. The helper was earlier confirmed to be infected.

The new closures add to an existing shutdown order issued last Thursday to nightclubs, bars and pubs, along with cinemas, fitness centres and game halls.

Those who breach the order will face the prospect of a HK$50,000 (US$6,450) fine and six months in jail.

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Chan urged residents to cooperate with the government measures, adding that other premises not included under the closures were not without risk and people should maintain social distancing.

Tang Ka-piu of the pro-establishment Federation of Trade Unions told RTHK that the increasing list of shuttered venues was making city residents nervous, as “no one knows when their industry could become the next target of closures”.

“Subsidising workers’ wages is a welcome move, but the measures should cover workers who did not benefit from the last round of aid,” he said.

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng Man-yee said the first round of anti-epidemic relief measures from the government had too narrow a scope and only benefited a small share of workers.

“The first round of measures was selective and only targeted some industries,” she said. “Some restaurant managers still put chefs on unpaid leave, even after receiving the subsidies.”

Ng added: “By our count, only 6 to 7 per cent of workers actually benefited from the relief measures. Those actually facing unemployment and unpaid leave have been left out.”

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