Restaurant cap back as infections soar

Top News | Jane Cheung and Maisy Mok 10 Jul 2020

Hong Kong has re-imposed an eight-people cap on restaurant seating as it tries to control a rapidly growing wave of the Covid-19 epidemic, with 42 new cases recorded yesterday, including a record single-day high 34 local infections.

The cap on customers sharing a restaurant table will be restored to eight from tomorrow for two weeks, with bars also back to four people at a table.

Yesterday's 42 cases - 27 males and 15 females aged between three months and 95 years - take the tally to 1,360, with seven deaths.

Six were linked to two restaurants - Pan Kei congee shop at Choi Hung's Ping Shek Estate and Sun Fat Restaurant on Man Ying Street, Jordan.

The Secretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan Siu-chee, said recent cases showed "no-mask activities" are a high transmission risk so the government decided to tighten restrictions in places where customers do not wear masks.

In addition to capping customers sharing a table at eight after completely lifting the restriction last month, restaurants can serve only 60 percent of their overall capacity while bars and nightclubs are limited to four from eight customers at a table.

Other no-mask venues, including party rooms, gyms and karaoke clubs, will also return to the eight-person cap from 16, starting tomorrow.

Despite not tightening measures at cinemas and live performance sites, Chan said people are not allowed to eat or drink there.

The new measures will be effective until 11.59pm on July 24.

The person in charge of premises which violate the rules faces a fine of up to HK$50,000 and six months in jail on conviction. "In light of recent local infections, citizens should avoid leaving their homes and gathering with friends," Chan said yesterday.

"Even if you go to a restaurant, you should keep wearing a mask whenever you are not eating," she said, adding takeaways are another option to lower transmission risks.

Chan also reminded restaurants to stick to existing measures to keep tables 1.5 meters apart, install partitions and check customers' body temperature.

The catering sector was disappointed by the short-lived rebound of business after authorities lifted the customer cap in eateries in mid-June and restaurants saw the best business day on Father's Day this year.

Hsin Kuang Restaurant group's director and general manager, Thomas Woo Chu, said he worried businesses will take a turn for the worse again and is likely to be as bad as that in March and April with the influx of imported cases, adding some customers have already called to cancel bookings.

The convener of the Hong Kong Small and Middle Restaurant Federation, Gordon Lam Sui-wa, criticized the government's inability to stop the latest wave of infections, hoping it could launch a third round of the anti-epidemic fund to help restaurants.

Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, catering sector lawmaker and Executive Council member, said the campaign for more than 1,000 restaurants to provide a 30 percent discount to be launched next week may be affected due to the latest outbreaks.

Cheung said the tightened social distancing rules in restaurants is going to put a big debt on catering business.

Among yesterday's cases, six were related to the Pan Kei and Sun Fat restaurant cluster, including three taxi drivers. One of them, a 58-year-old man living at On Chung House in Kwun Tong's Shun On public estate, usually eats at Sun Fat at 1am every day.

The other two taxi drivers, 68 and 70, are close contacts of a previously diagnosed 58-year-old taxi driver who had been to Pan Kei.

The 70-year-old driver's wife and daughter were also diagnosed with Covid-19 yesterday.

The wife of a 71-year-old Pan Kei customer diagnosed on Wednesday tested positive for the coronavirus yesterday.

So far, six taxi drivers have been identified from the cluster. The Centre for Health Protection's head of communicable disease branch, Chuang Shuk-kwan, said it has asked police and telecom service providers to help trace customers of the drivers so they can be tested.

She called for citizens who had been to Pan Kei and Sun Fat, and anyone suspecting they have taken the affected taxis, to contact the center at bottle@dh.gov.hk for deep throat saliva collection bottles for coronavirus tests.

The MTR Corporation said 12 staffers and six contractors at West Kowloon Station have been to Sun Fat Restaurant. They have been asked to take Covid-19 tests and stay at home.

Chan said authorities will do a second round of Covid-19 tests on elderly home workers and restaurant staff, adding the government has been doing more than 7,000 daily tests for two days.

The new wave of infections has caused restaurants, schools and even funeral homes to close.

SKH Kei Hin Primary School in Ngau Tau Kok and Taoist Ching Chung Primary School in Tuen Mun announced closure for today after students' parents were infected. The same happened at Good Hope Primary School in Ngau Chi Wan, which announced class suspension for three days.

Four restaurants in Causeway Bay - Van Gogh Kitchen, Ippudo, The Graces Restaurant and Deluxe Daikiya Japanese Restaurant - were closed yesterday for disinfection after a 31-year-old man diagnosed on Wednesday dined there.

Diamond Hill Funeral Parlor was closed yesterday for cleaning after being notified a confirmed patient had visited the premises on June 29 and 30.

SaSa yesterday closed an outlet on Ko Chiu Road, Yau Tong, for 14 days after a cashier caught the virus. She took sick leave from July 5, and the cosmetics chain received confirmation of her infection yesterday.

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