'Keep the alcohol flowing'

Top News | Sophie Hui 26 Mar 2020

Executive councilors have warned that a ban on alcohol might lead to more judicial hangovers, and they suggested limiting the number of people joining social gatherings instead.

Their comments came as doctors, including the Hong Kong Medical Association, said the health system will collapse if the Covid-19 pandemic is not controlled. They urging the government take decisive measures to stop the virus spreading.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on Monday that the government seeks to ban 8,600 bars and restaurants from selling alcohol. However, the government is still listening to public views this week.

Yesterday brought increasing pressure on the government to reconsider the ban, including from four Executive Council members.

Exco member and lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the New People's Party said Hong Kong is the only place considering an alcohol ban to reduce social contacts.

She said regulations should aim to stop people from gathering, but not to target a particular venue.

Banning alcohol sales in bars and restaurants will be limiting individual freedoms, and judicial reviews may arise, Ip said.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah said a booze ban is a "halfway measure" which agitates the catering industry while failing to achieve the goal of stopping people from gathering and cutting the transmission chain.

"If the measure is not effective and it cannot stop the spreading of the virus, it has nothing to do with anybody if someone challenges the law successfully," he said.

He supported legislation for limiting the number of people attending gatherings - including dining and smoking - to a range of two to six.

"We have to find an appropriate solution to the problem, maybe to have a law to limit the number of people when going out or in social activities, like there cannot be more than four people," he said.

He gave examples that no more than four people should be allowed to sit at one table, and each diner should be kept at a distance of two meters.

The government can launch the measure for 14 days first, to be reviewed further.

Another Exco member, Lam Ching-choi, who is a doctor, suggested limiting the number of people at gatherings. The booze ban was an indirect measure as alcohol would not spread the virus.

Another member, Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who is also catering sector lawmaker, said the booze ban is unnecessary and cannot help contain the virus.

He said the catering sector would cooperate if the government decided to go ahead with the ban, but bars and restaurants should be compensated.

"If the government decides to do that, we cannot afford it on our own," Cheung said. "We are talking about compensation in rent, compensation in salaries and definitely waiving the rates that the government charges." He also said restaurants are refusing to serve anyone with quarantine bracelets and will report them to police.

University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said the number of Covid-19 cases has increased 10 times over the past two weeks, driven by imported cases, while sources of local cases remain unknown.

He said public hospitals could be overwhelmed next week if the government failed to roll out robust measures to control people's movement before the weekend.

The Medical Association's president,Ho Chung-ping, said the large number of Hongkongers returning from overseas and people breaking quarantine rules have increased the risk of community outbreak.

Meanwhile, fast-food chain Cafe de Coral said its restaurants including Cafe de Coral, Super Super Congee & Noodles, Mixian Sense and Oliver's Super Sandwiches will stop dining-in services after 6.30pm. The measure, starting on Friday, will continue until April 9, but takeaway services will continue.

sophie.hui@singtaonewscorp.com

More reports:

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Massive lockdown in India

Smart boost for isolation bracelets

Covid-19 gong sounds for guest at listing

Buses to macau ground to halt

Editorial:

Alcohol ban hard to swallow

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