Malls face early LNY closure to keep crowds down

Top News | Wallis Wang and Jane Cheung 14 Jan 2021

Shopping malls could be asked to close earlier than usual as an anti-pandemic measure, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee warned.

And that will be with crowds expected during the Lunar New Year holiday.

Chan said the move was being considered after suggestions by some experts that closing malls earlier than usual could combat Covid-19.

But the Institute of Shopping Centre Management strongly opposed early closing, saying it could trigger another wave of shop closures.

Malls have already seen a plunge in visitors since social distancing measures were rolled, it argued, leading to huge losses for the retail and catering sectors.

Also yesterday in the Legislative Council, many lawmakers voiced concerns over cross-household celebrations during the holiday.

On that, Chan said authorities are still trying to figure out how to regulate home gatherings involving more than one family, but she admitted it would be difficult to enforce a rule.

And certain businesses could be asked to check whether customers have downloaded the government LeaveHomeSafe app as one criterion for reopening.

Businesses currently closed due to the pandemic include gyms, beauty centers, clubs and karaoke lounges. Chan also said officials of the Innovation and Technology Bureau are discussing ideas with interested parties.

"We hope a whole series of measures can be set up before the reopening of those businesses so that business owners will know what to do when they reopen," Chan said.

As Covid-19 cases have re-surged recently, Chan added, authorities will step up efforts further in virus tracking and testing.

She also appealed to citizens to stay cautious and be cooperative with anti-Covid measures.

Separately at the legislature, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said banning Hong Kong's domestic workers from their Sunday gatherings to slow infection was inappropriate and could be discriminatory.

Law said the infection rate among domestic helpers is 0.055 percent compared with the 0.1 percent rate among Hong Kong residents generally.

He added that requiring foreign helpers to stay at their employers' homes equals asking them to stay at workplaces, which is completely different from asking local residents to stay at home.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong reported 42 new Covid-19 cases yesterday - all local infections and including 11 from unknown sources.

That took the tally to 9,386 cases, including 161 deaths. More than 20 preliminary patients are awaiting confirmations from tests.

Residents and visitors at Chun Wai House in Wong Tai Sin's home ownership scheme Tin Ma Court have meanwhile been issued with mandatory test notices after four people from two units were infected.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, the Centre for Health Protection's head of the communicable disease unit, also said more than 20 people living on the same floor with infected patients in a Jordan tenement structure - four blocks from 20 to 26 Reclamation Street - have been sent to quarantine.

Still, no new infections were recorded yesterday, and the cluster's total stood at 21 patients from 11 flats.

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