Tougher penalties for curb cheats

Top News | Jane Cheung 30 Nov 2020

The HK$2,000 fine for breaking the ban on gatherings of not more than four people could be increased as it has failed to deter violations, says Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Lam said yesterday the coronavirus can hardly be eradicated in Hong Kong before effective vaccines are widely administered and that she believes the pandemic will continue to worsen.

"From what we see now, a HK$2,000 fixed penalty is unlikely to deter violations," Lam said.

This comes as police busted two bars in Causeway Bay and Yuen Long for operating after 12am yesterday. Seven people in charge of the bars were arrested for breaching social distancing measures and 45 customers were each fined HK$2,000.

Lam said her government is looking at how much the penalty should be raised, but said "it will certainly have a deterrent effect."

Earlier, Lam admitted border restrictions had been loose, leading to imported cases sparking outbreaks.

But she claimed such loopholes had been plugged and that the government was discussing a "closed loop" management system with designated quarantine hotels and using designated vehicles to send arrivals to hotels.

Designated quarantine hotels will have at least 200 rooms each, with built-in restaurants to provide meals for arrivals, as they will not be allowed to order delivery, sources said. Prices will be set according to the hotels' levels.

It is understood that the government has also rented 1,000 hotel rooms for isolation of close contacts, in case the quarantine units at Penny's Bay and holiday camps are saturated due to a rapid surge of cases.

Government adviser David Hui Shu-cheong from Chinese University said he had called for the government to adopt work-from-home arrangements for civil servants, cut off dining-in at restaurants after 10pm and closing karaoke clubs. Concerts should also be put on hold, he added. "Although social distancing measures are in place for spectators, up to thousands of people could be leaving the venue at the same time," he said.

"Transmission risks would be increased in a large group of people waiting for public transportation."

Hui said the number of daily cases is high, with a considerable number of unknown-source cases, indicating extensive silent transmission chains. He added: "If we don't act quickly to tighten measures, this wave may drag on until Christmas or even New Year."

Infectious disease expert Joseph Tsang Kay-yan from the Hong Kong Medical Association said contact tracing is key in curbing transmissions.

"Currently, each patient only leads to two to three close contacts requiring quarantine," he said. "I worry it does not reflect the actual situation."

Tsang said patients should report in detail their whereabouts during the infectious period.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said all workers from elderly and disabled homes will be required to take Covid-19 tests twice a week, with the first test to be taken by December 14.

Those who refuse to take the test will be advised to do so, and those who continue to resist may face a penalty or even be banned from working.

Staff can get free nasal and throat swabs tests from nine community test centers or get tested at private laboratories. Due to geographical restraints, those working in care homes on outlying islands will be exempt from the initial stage of the testing program.

In previous rounds of voluntary test programs for care home workers, the highest participation rate was 86 percent, but this dropped to 68 percent in later rounds.

"Although 68 percent is not low, it indicates one-third of them did not take part in the scheme," he said.

Law added the mandatory program targets care home staff, not residents, because they are more likely to move around in the community and so are at higher risk of contracting the virus.

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