$3B hit too hard to swallow for catering sector

Top News | Jane Cheung 15 Jul 2020

The catering sector expects to lose HK$3 billion in revenue this month as new virus restrictions - especially a ban on restaurant dining after 6pm - hit the business.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has rolled out a set of drastic policies to control resurging local infections surrounding eateries and tightened the cap on customers sharing a table back to four, effective from today to 11.59pm on Tuesday.

Some outlets, including banquet organizers and hot pot restaurants, may even have to close because they cannot offer takeaway services, said Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades president Simon Wong Ka-wo on radio yesterday.

"It's impossible to cover the loss of revenue from dine-in services, even for Hong Kong-style restaurants that offer takeaways," he said.

"Takeaway delivery companies may not have sufficient manpower either. But people may breach the social gathering ban if they go to restaurants themselves to pick up takeaways."

Wong said the government should evaluate whether the economy can survive the anti-epidemic measures and called for it to launch more subsidy programs to support industries.

Gordon Lam Sui-wa, convener of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Restaurant Federation, said the industry was not consulted on the measures.

"Some eateries have not received subsidies from the last round of the Anti-Epidemic Fund and owners face difficulty in paying rent and salaries," he said.

"Operational cost will also go up because restaurants will have to procure more takeaway containers."

An owner of a Tai Po restaurant said a takeaway outlet's operational costs on rent and salaries are typically 20 percent of a restaurant's costs.

"It's not sustainable if a restaurant can only do takeaways," she said.

Not only are restaurants hard hit by the new measures. Twelve types of premises - including bars, nightclubs, party rooms, karaoke lounges, bath houses, saunas, gym centers and beauty salons - have to be closed, along with all facilities under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Ocean Park and Disneyland.

The chairwoman of the Bartenders and Mixologists Union of Hong Kong, Cat Hou Chui-shan, said bars have not seen virus clusters for a long time but are still ordered to close.

"The new policy is like treating a headache by using medication on the legs," she said. "It's not logical that the ban on dine-in targets only dinner business."

The government, separately, announced the launch of the Anti-Epidemic Fund's subsidy for the exhibition sector will be postponed after the book fair and other exhibitions at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre to be held this month and next month were postponed.

Publishers said the book fair constitutes 40 percent of their annual revenue and many exhibitors have already paid logistics and printing costs.

Starry Night publisher said online book shops are the only hope to cover for lost business from the fair but expects revenue this year to be much less than before.

The tourism sector also received a blow as the tightened cap for social gatherings to groups of four makes it not viable to organize any local tours. WWPKG announced the cancellation of all one-day local tours from today to July 28.

Another stringent measure is to require all commuters on public transport to wear masks and give drivers legal rights to reject unmasked passengers. The requirement applies in the paid areas of MTR stations. Violators will be fined HK$5,000.

MTR Union Railway Power chairman Michael Chan Hoi-fai said the new regulation has a deterrent effect but worried it would create conflicts between passengers and frontline officers in stations.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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