Crowds of people flocked to ice-skating rinks, game centres, and restaurants across Hong Kong on Friday, as the government eased social-distancing measures brought in to combat the coronavirus.
In a move many hope will revitalise the city’s stagnant economy, officials lifted restrictions on the number of people allowed to eat together, on how many can meet in public, and gave a variety of businesses, including museums, mahjong parlours, ice-skating rinks, as well as most indoor and outdoor sport facilities, permission to reopen.
However, bars and pubs, bathhouses, party rooms, clubs or nightclubs, karaoke premises, swimming pools and beaches remain closed.
At about 10am, at a large games centre in Sha Tin, dozens of eager fans, from teenagers to the elderly, were already glued to their consoles.
In Tsim Sha Tsui, a major tourist and shopping neighbourhood before the pandemic hit, more people queued up for restaurants in malls compared to those along the main streets.
Under the latest rules, four people are allowed per table in restaurants, up from two, but the ban on dine-in services from 10pm to 5am remains unchanged, while public gatherings have been relaxed from two to four people.
A queue of more than 20 customers lined up for a table outside JS Foodies, a burger restaurant in the Harbour City shopping centre, just before 1pm.
Eve Leung, and two of her colleagues who are on unpaid leave from a travel agency, were among them.
“We think it’s safe to eat together at restaurants now because Covid-19 cases have been dropping,” Leung said. “We can also use dining coupons from the shopping centre, around HK$50 off per person.
“Hopefully, the pandemic can go away soon, so more people can eat out and help the struggling restaurants.”
At NMC Noodles at Hau Fook Street, about 20 people waited for their takeaway orders while four small groups queued up for a table.
Mary Chan and two other colleagues were among those waiting to sit down.
“It’s much more convenient now with the ease of restrictions because before three of us would still dine-in together, but they would separate us into one table for two and an extra table for just one person,” she said.
It was a different story at Yuen Kee Restaurant on Granville Road, with only about a dozen diners seated one person per table for early lunch around 12.30pm.
“Business didn’t really pick up in the past two weeks, even when we were allowed to open until 10pm. Our location is at a tourist hotspot, and we really suffered a lot when tourists stopped coming,” said a waiter, who gave his surname as Yau.
Yau said he expected groups of four to return gradually over the weekend, but added that office workers may choose to order out instead, as they could have a 15 per cent discount off their takeaway set menu, which normally costs HK$60 per person.
At a different shopping centre, Angel Lam and her friend Susanne Cheung said they were relieved the social-distancing measures had been relaxed.
“Maybe we will invite more friends to dine together in the next few weeks, we’re not particularly scared of the coronavirus, but more because everyone is busy,” said Lam, who works in the hospitality industry.
The pair, in their 30s, said that eager foodies like themselves had waited months to be able to eat out with friends.
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