Four's a crowd - but not for everyone

Top News | Sophie Hui 30 Mar 2020

Questions were raised about the effectiveness of the two-week ban on more than four people gathering in public places as hordes of domestic helpers and grave sweepers were seen breaking the rule on the first day of its enforcement.

Fewer people than usual were out on the streets yesterday afternoon, but a lot more people were seen dining in twos in eateries.

But foreign domestic helpers - who number about 390,000, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia - continued their usual Sunday gatherings, with some breaching the four-people limit as each group surrounded themselves with carton boxes and patrolling police were busy advising people to break up.

Those who violate the law will be issued with a fixed penalty of HK$2,000, or in the case of a formal prosecution, a fine of HK$25,000 and six months in jail. But up to last night no one had been given fixed penalty.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on Friday the prohibition on group gatherings aimed at maintaining social distancing to flatten the Covid-19 pandemic curve, including gatherings of more than four people in public places.

But 12 types of group gatherings are exempted, including transport, work place, people living in the same household.

Wedding ceremonies can have no more than 20 people, but and funerals can have more than 20.

Authorities also said officers can disperse the group gatherings if the distance is less than 1.5 meter between two groups or more at the same place, and more than four people in a group.

At about 11am yesterday, domestic helpers were sat in groups along the Mong Kok pedestrian footbridge near Fa Yuen Street, and the distance between groups was less than 1.5 meters. Some also did not follow the four-people rule as seven to eight people gathered to eat and chat, some with masks on.

A dozen police officers later patrolled the footbridge and warned them about gathering of more than four people and telling them to sit further apart.

At the usual Sunday haunts of Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and Statue Square in Central, many domestic helpers kept a 1.5-meter distance, while some put up paper boards to separate themselves. Some also said they would not share food and will pay attention to personal hygiene.

"My boss told me, you'd better stay at home because now it's serious," said Anna. "I told my boss that I go out for the last time this week, and after that I will stay at home." Another said: "We are aware of the pandemic. We can take care of ourselves. We have been informed about the distance so we have to follow that."

Philippine consul general Raly Tejada said the number of Filipinos going to the consulate was "drastically" down yesterday to less than 200 from the usual 600.

Concern groups also showed up with reminders, informing the workers of the new requirements as some of them may not know the new rules when they were working.

Ahead of Ching Ming Festival this weekend, big families were also suspected of violating the social gathering ban when groups of six or seven went grave sweeping at cemeteries.

At Tseung Kwan O Chinese Permanent Cemetery, a grave sweeper surnamed Ng said he would ignore the four-people rule as the family would not be grave sweeping separately.

"We would not go in batches. We are a family," he said. "We will leave immediately after grave sweeping."

Another, Miss Chan, said she thought grave-sweeping was exempted and said her family walked in separate groups.

"We will go home immediately after grave-sweeping and will not go for lunch afterward," she said.

Police said in the initial stage of the regulations, officers will remind citizens to comply with the rules, giving advice or warnings.

Meanwhile, Wong Tai Sin temple was closed yesterday for two weeks until April 12, and all religious events will be canceled.

Editorial: Wuhan-style lockdown hard to copy

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