Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Friday that the current anti-pandemic restrictions in place will be extended for another two weeks to February 3, which is the third day of the Chinese New Year.
The measures include a ban on night-time dining-in at restaurants and the closure of entertainment venues such as theme parks, cinemas, karaokes, gyms and mahjong parlours.
Large-scale events, such as the annual Lunar New Year fairs across the city, as well as celebrations organised by the Tourism Board, will also be cancelled.
Passenger flights from eight countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and the Philippines, meanwhile, will continue to be suspended.
The CE said she understands that many people and businesses will be disappointed with the extension of the measures, but the move is needed to curb the latest Covid
“The risks are still here,” she stressed.
Lam said that if the pandemic situation improves in the coming weeks, the government will consider easing the restrictions gradually from February 4.
Beauty parlours, for example, may be allowed to reopen.
However, she said these venues will have to operate under the “vaccine
bubble” arrangement, meaning only people who have received Covid
jabs will be allowed to enter.
“Previously we just rolled out the social distancing measures, 14 days and another 14 days, and even without an end date. This has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainties for the trade," she said.
“Now we are in a situation better than the fourth wave because of vaccination. And I hope to see the vaccination rate go up, say to over 80 or close to 90 percent. That will give us a better basis to now foretell that by then… we may be able to allow these premises to start operating again under a vaccine
bubble... but again, there is no guarantee."
Meanwhile, the CE said businesses and individuals affected by the latest restrictions can apply for the government’s fifth round of anti-epidemic funding, totaling around HK$3.57 billion, from Monday.
Restaurants, gyms and beauty parlours, for example, will be eligible for the financial help.
Other industries that have not yet recovered from the pandemic, such as the tourism sector, will also be entitled to funds.
However, Simon Wong, who heads the Federation of Restaurants, said the government subsidy for the catering sector is simply not enough, warning that some restaurants may fold.
“All the bookings for the Chinese restaurants have been cancelled. We are very worried some of the restaurants cannot get through this hard situation and might have to close down,” he said.
“We of course want the government to give us more helping hand.”
Wong added while the prospect of a resumption of business next month offers a glimmer a hope, it all depends on whether the local Covid
outbreak is brought under control.
“For the restaurant trade, we are being put into some kind of situation which we cannot decide. [Do] we can take in bookings or not? We are not able to put any orders for food stuffs for the next round of business. If we really don’t know what is going to happen, it is kind of confusing,” he added.