Leading restaurant group Tao Heung Holdings will suspend dinner services at all of its 48 Chinese restaurants for two weeks from Saturday as Hong Kong is set to launch tougher strategies to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The listed firm announced its own containment initiatives after the food and beverage sector, including fast food chain McDonald’s and Cafe de Coral, rolled out measures to check the spread of Covid-19.
Outlets under Tao Heung’s brands such as Tao Heung, Pier 88, Hak Ka Hut, Chao Inn, and Chung’s Cuisine will end services at 4pm on March 28, until April 10.
“For everyone’s health and safety,” the group said on its Facebook page on Friday morning, “from today, our restaurants will not serve anyone under mandatory quarantine.”
The group has around 50 restaurants in the city.
As one of Hong Kong’s largest catering groups, Tao Heung mainly operates Chinese restaurants serving various dishes, including hotpot, seafood, and Hakka delicacy, in addition to a Japanese restaurant and Tai Cheong Bakery which is famous for egg tarts. It also runs dozens of restaurants across the border in mainland China.
This month, Tao Heung said it had already temporarily shut the doors of four of its local restaurants amid the pandemic. But, its spokeswoman said the Japanese restaurant will run as usual.
Hong Kong’s tally of Covid-19 cases reached 518 by Friday afternoon, with many of the latest confirmed cases involving overseas returnees. A community cluster of infections involving bars has also become a cause for concern, putting more pressure on residents to practise social distancing.
Since Monday, the food and beverage sector has been up in arms against Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for her plan to ban alcohol sales at Hong Kong’s 8,600 licenced restaurants, bars, and clubs.
On Friday evening, Lam dropped the proposal after a discussion with her senior Executive Council advisers, citing the crux of the matter was to reduce social interactions.
But from Saturday night, restaurants would be required to limit the number of diners at each table to four, with each table 1.5 metres apart, while eateries could only operate at half their capacities.
Restaurants must check patrons’ temperature and provide them with hand sanitiser. The measures would last for at least two weeks.
Spot checks will be carried out by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and violators in the catering industry will be subjected to a maximum penalty of a HK$50,000 (US$6,450) fine and six months’ jail.
Earlier in the day, Liberal Party lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who represents the catering sector, urged restaurants to implement eight measures for two weeks from Saturday so the government did not have to ban their operations.
“Today, the ban is on alcohol, tomorrow it may be on all restaurants. I call on all bars and restaurants to adopt eight measures and guard against the epidemic together,” he said on Facebook late on Thursday.
The tactics included restaurants halving their seating from 6.30pm, providing discounts of at least 20 per cent for takeaway services, and scrapping live music.
Cheung on Friday estimated thousands of restaurants and bars would join the move, while hoping to bring the tally to more than 10,000 later.
He added more than 1,000 restaurants had already signed an online pledge vowing to introduce the measures, with some starting from Friday night.
“Despite having quiet business in the sector, we will adopt the measures to contain the epidemic. I hope landlords can waive our rents for two weeks,” he said.
From this week, McDonald’s in Hong Kong and Cafe de Coral also suspended their dine-in services in the evenings.