Coronavirus: scramble for gym, cinema sessions hours before Hong Kong’s leisure venue ban as part of social distancing kicks in

Chan Ho-him

Hongkongers on Saturday scrambled – some grudgingly – for a final chance to catch a film in the cinema or work up a sweat at gyms hours before a government ban on leisure venues kicked in at 6pm.

Under tightened measures for a city at war against the coronavirus, cinemas, gyms and fitness centres, saunas, gaming centres, party rooms and amusement venues are among establishments ordered to close for 14 days to further ensure social distancing.

This came as Hong Kong recorded 64 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the tally to 582 with four fatalities.

Cinemas have already been badly hit by the epidemic. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

At Cinema City JP in the shopping hub of Causeway Bay, only two films were on show after 3pm.

At least three customers the Post approached said they decided to watch a movie before the ban came into effect. Among them was Mulder Chan, in her 30s, who said it was the first time this month she was venturing into a theatre.

I have been checking out which films I can watch before the [two-week] ban

Mulder Chan, movie-goer

“I have been checking out which films I can watch before the [two-week] ban,” she said. Chan used to watch two films a month before the pandemic hit.

She felt the ban was unnecessary as cinemas were already receiving fewer patrons recently.

“In some cinemas, audiences are already sitting in separate rows. One can also choose seats which are further away from others when booking a ticket,” she added.

A staff member at the cinema said business had been hit hard, with only an average of 10 customers per screening session this month.

Earlier, at the nearby Physical gym in the morning, about 50 people were seen working out.

Members had their temperatures checked and were asked if they had been overseas in the past two weeks before being allowed to enter.

Damon Wong, a 34-year-old gym regular, said closing gyms for two weeks was a reasonable move. “The government has a reason to do that. Reducing social contact at this time should be done. It is much more important for everyone to stay healthy.”

I’ve been going to the gym [seven days] a week. Now that I can’t do so, I think I’ll be feeling a bit uncomfortable

Shie, 70, retiree

But Wong added that he felt the measures came too late. “If the government had implemented stricter [border control] earlier, they might not have to do this now.”

Another gym-goer, a retiree surnamed Shie, 70, said he felt the restrictions were inconvenient as it would be the first time in six years that he would not be able to get his regular workout dose.

“I’ve been going to the gym [seven days] a week. Now that I can’t do so, I think I’ll be feeling a bit uncomfortable,” Shie said, adding that he might switch to running on the streets during the ban.

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“I do hope the surge in infections can be contained after this ban,” he said.

Under the latest measures, bars and restaurants would be allowed to operate at only half capacity as each table should be apart from others by at least 1.5 metres. A ban on gatherings of more than four people would also come into effect at midnight.

Fitness and lifestyle centre Goji Studios in Wan Chai is closed. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Meanwhile, by lunchtime in Causeway Bay, a steakhouse was only half-full. Staff members, who spoke on condition that the outlet would not be identified, said they would halve the number of tables from about 60 to 30 by 6pm when the new measures came into effect.

“Business has dropped 70 per cent after the pandemic, and with the latest ban, it’s expected that it will further plunge by at least 50 per cent” an employee said.

Customers at Dragon Delight. Photo: Edmond So

In Fo Tan in the New Territories, the normally buzzing Dragon Delight restaurant already had half of its 150 tables remaining, each spaced 1.5 metres apart at lunchtime. The place was slightly more than half-full.

Restaurant owner David Leung Chi-wai said tables were just 0.5 metres apart previously, adding that his business would close two hours earlier at 9pm on weekdays and offer a 30 per cent discount on takeaway food to encourage social distancing.

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“But it will be a tough job for our staff members to remind some diners, especially elderly ones, to wear masks and sit apart as they have the habit of hanging out and sharing food like dim sum together,” he said.

Wedding banquets and private parties do not seem to be affected by the measures, as many have already been cancelled.

Leung, who is chairman of Seafood Delight Group Management, which operates 11 restaurants across the city, said business was already down about 70 per cent as many customers opted to stay home amid the health crisis, and he anticipated the new measure would push revenue down by a further 10 per cent.

Does it make any difference? I am not sure

Cheng, 65, diner

Diners were divided on the restrictions. Chung, 60, said he supported the measure out of a health concerns, but he and his colleagues who work in the area would still come often for lunch. “Four of us can sit at one table, and another four can sit at a different one, ordering our own food.”

Another customer, Cheng, 65, said the policy might increase the chance of cross-infections during gatherings at home.

“I have three children and six grandchildren. We see each other often and frequent this restaurant. Now we may just go to each other’s homes. Does it make any difference? I am not sure.”

This article Coronavirus: scramble for gym, cinema sessions hours before Hong Kong’s leisure venue ban as part of social distancing kicks in first appeared on South China Morning Post

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