Pressure on book fair to cancel

Top News | Maisy Mok and Sophie Hui 13 Jul 2020

Publishers and medical experts are pressing the Hong Kong Book Fair, due to open on Wednesday, to be postponed or cancelled amid the worsening Covid-19 outbreak.

The fair organizer, Hong Kong Trade Development Council, said it is consulting different stakeholders on arrangements for the week-long book fair and the Education and Careers Expo and Entrepreneur Day, to open on Thursday, as concerns for visitors and exhibitors grow.

“An announcement will be made as soon as there is an update,” a council spokesman said.

About 200 out of 585 fair exhibitors have asked the council not to start the annual event as scheduled, according to a survey conducted by the 2020 Book Fair Concern Group, representing more than 50 exhibitors.

More than 160 publishers considered not taking part if the book fair began as usual.

“Even if the book fair is to start as usual, the organizer should provide an option for exhibitors who decide not to participate and give them a refund for their booth’s rental payment,” Pang said.

He said the survey was distributed to publishers at 2pm yesterday and is still going on.

Pang hoped the organizer can respond to their concern as soon as possible as exhibitors are supposed to set up their booths today.

The Kowloon Motor Bus Company announced yesterday it was withdrawing from the fair for the safety of their employees and the public.

A KMB spokesman wrote on its Facebook page that the decision was made due to the recent rise of Covid-19 cases and signs of community outbreak. “We will continue to discuss with the Transport Department regarding the arrangement for special routes for the book fair,” the spokesman said.

Medical experts worry about large-scale coronavirus transmission during the fair, which traditionally attracts millions of visitors.

The University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital chief executive, Lo Chung-mau, said even the Tokyo Olympics has been postponed and he did not see why it could not be the case for the book fair.

“The book fair will bring a huge risk of infection for starting the exhibition during the pandemic. Even if they limit the entry capacity, it is not beneficial to the exhibitors,” Lo said.

A government adviser on Covid-19 and top microbiologist, Yuen Kwok-yung, from HKU, said the fair should be postponed if the organizer is not confident of minimizing transmission risks.

He said anti-pandemic restrictions such as banning food, requiring everyone to wear a mask, and making people rub their hands with sanitizer before and after touching books should be imposed.

However, medicine expert Ivan Hung Fan-ngai, also from HKU, said the book fair can resume as long as people are disciplined in following all health safety measures.

“The book fair should limit entry capacity and reduce the chances of the public taking off their masks in the venue, and prevent any close contact activity such as hand shaking in meet-and-greet events,” Hung said. 

Yuen said it really relies on the people to fight the virus but he realized that citizens are losing their willpower these days. 

Social distancing measures in restaurants were tightened on Saturday with the government requiring restaurants to operate at a 60 percent seating capacity and no more than eight people per table.

But Yuen said he walked in Kennedy Town and many restaurants were crowded, adding it is difficult to check every restaurant. 

He said the human body has a weaker virus response in the summer and authorities may see Covid-19 outbreaks for about a week. 

If the situation gets worse, health control measures should be restored to the strictest level of March.

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