Hong Kong social-distancing measures relaxed, but diners still wary, with most preferring to eat in small groups

Kanis Leung
·4-min read

Hong Kong’s relaxation of Covid-19 prevention measures to allow more people at restaurant tables on Friday did not appear to be luring out many large groups of diners as of lunchtime, with some residents still wary of infection risks and others complaining of inconsistency in the government’s social-distancing rules.

As the city strives to resume normal economic activities, rules were eased on Friday to allow six people to sit at a restaurant table, up from four, while the limit on groups in bars and pubs rose from two to four. Some businesses had said they expected their revenues to jump 20 to 30 per cent due to the change.

Eating and drinking establishments are also now allowed to offer dine-in services until 2am, an extension from midnight, with capacity limits lifted from 50 to 75 per cent.

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But at lunchtime on Thomson Road in Wan Chai, most workers were still eating in small groups of fewer than five.

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An informal survey of five different restaurants between 12pm and 1pm found only three groups taking advantage of the newly eased social-distancing rules.

At one local cafe, Stephen Yan, 23, was having lunch with four other colleagues from the engineering sector.

“I feel excited,” he said, noting that under the old rule, they had to sit at two separate tables.

But, Yan said, since the government was still banning public gatherings of more than four, he had to walk to the restaurant ahead of his companions to avoid breaching the law. He said the inconsistency was unreasonable.

Explaining their arrangement, Yan’s colleague Ricky Lau, 39, said: “We are afraid of being caught by authorities.”

The cafe’s manager, surnamed Ko, predicted the relaxed rules could help boost the outlet’s revenue by 20 to 30 per cent, compared to previous days, but noted that most customers were still coming in smaller groups throughout the morning.

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University student Alan Chan, 20, who was having lunch with five friends in a neighbouring Japanese eatery, also complained about the inconsistency in the rules. He and his friends had to split into two groups of three in the streets before and after lunch, with one trio walking faster than the other.

“The policies are stupid. It creates inconvenience,” he said. “We saw police at the MTR station and I was concerned the officers would say we breached the rule.”

But on Tuesday, health minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee insisted the government was taking a “suitable approach” to preventing too many people congregating.

“Generally speaking, we must appeal to the public not to gather ... even though we’re exempting [the gathering ban for certain activities], those social-distancing measures have conditions ... and their risks can be managed,” she said at the time.

Earlier on Friday morning, residents enjoying dim sum at Yat Yat Place in Whampoa were apparently still treading lightly amid the ongoing pandemic, with no groups of more than four to be seen.

Housewife Jessica Pong (right) said she missed gathering for big celebratory meals with friends. Photo: Edmond So
Housewife Jessica Pong (right) said she missed gathering for big celebratory meals with friends. Photo: Edmond So

Housewife Shirley Ho, 56, who was having a meal with her mother, husband and son, said her family would continue to dine in a group of two or four.

“I don’t want to gather so many people sitting at one table. After all, we have elderly people staying with us,” Ho said.

“There is a risk when people don’t wear masks,” her 9-year-old son Tristan So added.

Sitting at another table of three, social services worker Virginia Pong, 35, also said she would still avoid having bigger gatherings with friends, despite the relaxed rules, as the health crisis was still unstable.

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Her sister, Jessica Pong, a 40-year-old housewife, recalled having big celebratory meals with more than 10 of her old primary school classmates back in the pre-pandemic days, saying she missed the gatherings a lot.

“We haven’t met in nine months,” she said.

Another customer, retiree Simon Fan, 67, was eating with three of his friends, but was looking forward to enjoying dim sum in a group of six next week.

Fan said the old rule had forced him and his friends to sit at separate tables.

“It’s meaningless to have meals at different tables,” he said.

The restaurant’s manager, surnamed Hung, said the footfall in the morning was just slightly better than previous days, but he had received two or three lunchtime bookings for six.

Hong Kong recorded seven, mostly imported, new Covid-19 cases on Friday.

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