Hong Kong will raise the penalty for flouting Covid-19 rules on public gatherings, wearing masks and mandatory testing to HK$5,000 (US$645), half the amount previously floated, as 112 new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Friday.
The stiffer fixed penalty, currently set at HK$2,000, takes effect next Friday. The Executive Council endorsed the move at a special meeting on Friday.
It will apply to violations covering the two-person rule on gathering in public, compulsory wearing of masks and mandatory testing orders.
Sources previously said the fine was set to rise to HK$10,000. But the government revealed in an evening press statement the penalty would be half that.
“The revision was to address the public’s concerns over the probably too high penalty,” said an Exco member, who declined to be named.
For offenders who fail to pay the fine for mask wearing or testing violations, the maximum penalty will be raised to HK$10,000, while the one for group gatherings will remain at six months’ jail and HK$25,000.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said earlier this week the government would increase the fine for social-distancing violations to deter rule-breakers as the city tackled its fourth wave of infections.
The city recorded more than 100 daily cases three times in the past week.
Covid-19 killed a 38-year-old man, who was also suffering from the flu, on Thursday night, making him the city’s 112th coronavirus-related fatality.
More new cases were linked to a “super-spreader” dancing venue cluster, a construction site in Tseung Kwan O and two care facilities.
Infections in four people who attended popular Canto-pop singer Hins Cheung King-hin’s concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum on different days also sparked concerns of a possible spread at the venue. Health officials urged performers, staff and more than 10,000 fans to get tested if they felt unwell.
“At the moment we don’t think this is an outbreak or a cluster, but of course we need to keep an eye on the situation,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, who did not rule out ordering mandatory testing if more cases related to the concerts were confirmed.
According to the organiser, Emperor Entertainment Group, three of the patients sat on row 74 near a yellow gate. Of the four, three had family members who were also infected. Chuang said it was possible they were infected by their families, citing one case where a relative with Covid-19 showed symptoms five days earlier.
Thirty-six of Friday’s confirmed infections were from unknown sources, 64 were linked to other cases and the remaining 12 were imported. The city’s infection tally now stands at 6,701.
More than 80 preliminary-positive cases were also reported.
The original proposal for a HK$10,000 fine had caused an uproar in the community. Respiratory medicine specialist Dr Leung Chi-chiu said such a penalty would have been “very harsh on poor people”.
Medical sector lawmaker Dr Pierre Chan Pui-yin said there was no data to show deterrence increased with the penalty, adding the best way to control the virus was through better monitoring of imported cases and the border.
The government also announced it would set up five more community testing centres to operate from next week, raising the total to 14, and one more mobile testing vehicle in Tung Chung starting from Sunday.
Earlier, the Social Welfare Department said two testing centres for care home workers had been set up in Wong Chuk Hang and Wan Chai, after staff reportedly struggled to book a Covid-19 test.
Under a new policy, all staff at care homes for the elderly and disabled, as well as nursing homes, must be tested in the first 14 days of this month if they have to work between December 15 and 21. Those who do not get tested risk being fined or stopped from working.
The Community Care and Nursing Home Workers General Union had questioned whether there was enough capacity at community centres to test all 40,000 employees across the city in such a short space of time.
“The whole thing is coming too quickly,” said Issac Tsang Kei-nam, the union’s organising secretary. “Having 40,000 people queuing on the streets to get a test also poses a big infection risk.”
Tsang said while staff could obtain free screenings at community centres, most did not have bookings available this week.
A check by the Post found that while most centres were fully booked on Friday and Saturday, the facilities in North district, Sai Kung, Sha Tin, Tuen Mun, and Yuen Long still had plenty of time slots available later next week.
Tsang said some employees at private care homes put in 12 hours a day, making it difficult for them to get to a centre after work, and most also worked six days a week.
Tsang suggested health officers collect specimens from staff at their workplace to avoid disruption to care home operations, and make it easier for employees to get tested.
Among Friday’s cases, 17 more were added to the dancing cluster, bringing the total to 607.
Another five workers from a construction site at Lohas Park, as well as two of their family members, were infected. Fong Shu Chuen Day Activity Centre and Hostel, a facility in Shau Kei Wan for the intellectually disabled where an outbreak was reported, recorded 10 more cases.
Ho Yuk Ching Willow Lodge, a care facility for the elderly in Tai Kok Tsui, had four more infections and two preliminary-positive cases.
Dr Lau Ka-hin, a chief manager from the Hospital Authority, said the latest Covid-19 fatality was a 38-year-old man being treated at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam. He also had the influenza A virus.
“We urged the public to get the flu vaccine to reduce the chances of serious complications when facing double infections [of Covid-19 and influenza],” Lau said
At Buddhist Hospital in Lok Fu, where a nurse was previously found to be infected, a 53-year-old female patient tested preliminary-positive. Lau said contact tracing was being conducted to see if any more patients were considered close contacts.
A domestic shorthair cat whose owner was a close contact of a confirmed case also tested positive for the virus on Friday, but did not show any symptoms of Covid-19.
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