Violators get away with warnings as fine rumors shot down

Top News | Michael Shum 6 Apr 2020

There were 2,816 verbal warnings about breaching social distancing rules given out in the first week of enforcement, but no one was prosecuted.

From March 29 up to yesterday authorities conducted 9,583 inspections involving what appeared to be more than four people gathering and then issued 1,291 warnings, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee revealed.

Chan also wrote on her blog: "Regarding the rules imposed on the catering industry, as well as places that were ordered to close, the implementation was roughly ideal."

That mostly involved officers of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department inspecting 20,616 eateries and handing out 1,299 "reminders" - most of them about customers being allowed into premises without temperature checks or operators failing to place tables at least the required 1.5 meters apart.

She said too that authorities inspected 531 bars and bar areas within restaurants and 59 verbal warnings about infringements were issued.

Additionally, 26 bars within clubhouses were inspected by officers of the Home Affairs Department and two were given verbal warnings.

For entertainment venues, most complied with the new rules. So only three verbal warnings were handed out from 63 inspections by police of karaoke lounges, nightclubs and cinemas.

Beauty parlors, clubhouses and massage parlors also proved to be in compliance with the new rules after 501 inspections.

"I hope the public can understand that the new regulations are not about penalizing or arresting people," Chan said.

The figures were announced as false rumors circulated online that some diners were fined HK$2,000 for taking off their masks before their meals arrived and that a fast-food chain saw customers being fined for sitting at tables that were too close to each other.

Another rumor that proved false involved a post on social media claiming that hikers were being fined for participating in a gatherings with over four people.

The bureau noted that in cases of diners being too close it would be operators who would be prosecuted, not customers.

Also on enforcement of rules, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung wrote on his blog that around 80 people breached quarantine orders from March 19 - when mandatory home isolation was applied for all arrivals began - until March 31.

Three were prosecuted and imprisoned, he noted. Cheung said more flats are being turned into quarantine units. "There are 1,740 quarantine units in total across all four quarantine centers," he said, "and more than 40 percent are currently in use.

"We have started to add more quarantine units at Blocks 3 and 4 of Chun Yeung Estate, with a target of an additional 1,660 units by the end of this month."

And another 1,000 units will be finished and ready for use from this month to July using prefabricated construction methods on government land in Chai Wan, Sai Kung and Penny's Bay.

Adding to the fact and figures, the Centre for Health Protection said of the 1,740 quarantine units there are 20 percent available for immediate use amid a decline in the number of Hongkongers returning from overseas.

michael.shum@singtaonewscorp.com

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