Close bars and restaurants if citizens keep going out, Gabriel Leung says

Local | 22 Mar 2020 8:01 pm

Hong Kong can look to the British example of ordering bars, restaurants and entertainment venues to close and pay wages of affected workers as the global coronavirus pandemic takes hold, head of the University of Hong Kong faculty of medicine Gabriel Leung has suggested.

Speaking on a television program, Leung, a member of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's expert panel in combating Covid-19, believed the number of confirmed cases will reach a new high this weekend and is likely to exceed 48 cases each day, as more Hongkongers studying overseas are expected to return to the SAR in the next two weeks.

“If we can overcome these several weeks with whatever means, I think we can avoid continuous local outbreaks,” he said.

He also urged citizens to exercise self-discipline and reduce unnecessary commuting.

"Restaurants can also consider suspending dinners and offering only takeaway services,” Leung said.

He said if citizens cannot discipline themselves voluntarily, the government can take reference to the United Kingdom's policies to enact a law to shut all restaurants, bars, cinemas and gyms to keep social distancing as a way to control the spread of the virus. So far, 5,018 people have been infected in the UK with 233 deaths.

This came as the SAR has seen a dozen of confirmed cases having been to the city's renowned nightspot Lan Kwai Fong in Central, including four – the 275th, 276th, 280th, and 284th – diagnosed yesterday.

The Centre for Health Protection said the four cases do not know one another but have all been to Lan Kwai Fong on March 13 or 14 _ a weekend, during which the 276th case performed in several pubs as a band member.

The center's head of communicable disease branch, Chuang Shuk-kwan, said she believed chatting at close distance without face masks at bars is a likely transmission path in Lan Kwai Fong. “It's actually not about the venue, but the mode of socialization where people usually visit a few pubs on the same night, as they chat and drink with friends or even strangers without masks on,” Chuang said.

“The music could be loud prompting people to chat in a really close distance. Some people at the bars could have travel history and having acquired the virus without knowing themselves.”

But Chuang said closing these venues may not effectively stop people from joining in gatherings. “They can always switch to other places or have parties at home,” she said. “It's best for them to maintain social distance voluntarily.”

Leung yesterday said: “There are two levels of self-discipline. The first one being citizens refraining from going out voluntarily and the second one to cut the supply – restaurants closed – but if either worked, the government should step up to the third level to invoke restrictions by law.”

“Such policies should be made promptly, preferably within several days. It's a painful decision but time doesn't wait,” he said, adding the government should make sure employees at the grass roots will still receive a certain income to sustain their living.

Leung's remarks came after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last Friday ordered pubs, clubs and restaurants nationwide to close that evening but allowed sale of only takeaway food and drinks.

The same applied to cinemas, theaters, gyms and leisure centers as a major social distancing measure. The policy came with public funds to pay 80 percent of affected workers' monthly salary of up to £2,500 (HK$ 22,600) to prevent companies from firing staffers to cut costs.

Similar closure of “non-essential public places” have been implemented in coronavirus hard-hit countries such as Italy and France.

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