More than 100 HK restaurants refuse to serve customers from China
More than 100 restaurants in Hong Kong have refused to serve diners from mainland China during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a human rights group that is warning firms against crossing the line into racial discrimination.
The Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) found the businesses were posting messages online or displaying notices at their premises barring Mandarin speakers and non-locals, while secret shopper visits revealed mainlanders were being turned away.
Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, from SoCO, said the health crisis did not justify discriminatory practices against visitors to the city and recent immigrants from the mainland.
"Of course restaurants should take different [public health] measures, but they should not do it in a way that strips some people of their rights or discriminates against them," the veteran activist said in a press conference on Thursday.
Hong Kong has 104 confirmed cases of the coronavirus originating from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, including two deaths. The virus, which causes the deadly illness Covid-19, has infected more than 80,400 people on the mainland.
The human rights advocacy group scoured websites and the social media accounts of local restaurants and found 101 of them had posted messages of a discriminatory nature, including refusing to serve mainlanders and Mandarin speakers, or declaring they would only entertain locals.
The investigation, conducted between Feb 15 and 28, also involved visits to 61 restaurants. It found 38 of them had displayed signs on their premises that did not welcome mainland customers. Investigators posed as Mandarin-speaking customers at 13 eateries, and were denied service at five of them.
At one eatery, the researcher was asked to produce a Hong Kong identity card after speaking in Mandarin, the official language of the mainland, to ask for a table for one.
In another case, an investigator was rejected even though he told restaurant staff where he was from and that he had not crossed the northern border in the past 14 days.
Tsoi said while denying service to everyone who had been to the mainland in the past 14 days did not discriminate against a particular group of people, restaurants would cross the line into racial discrimination if they imposed a blanket ban on all mainlanders.
The Race Discrimination Ordinance outlaws the discrimination, harassment and vilification of a person on the grounds of their race, which includes the race, colour, descent, and the national or ethnic origin of the person.
Tsoi said the legislation should be amended to include nationality and resident status to better protect mainland visitors and those who had moved to the city, while sharing the same Chinese ethnicity as most Hongkongers.
In response, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) said whether such cases amounted to discrimination would be determined on a case-by-case basis.
"Service providers, including restaurants, are subject to the regulations [under the ordinance] and responsible for ensuring that customers are not treated less favourably than another person or group because of their race, disability, gender and family status," a spokesman said.
"Whether the restaurants' refusal to serve customers from mainland China would constitute race discrimination depends on the actual circumstances."
It urged all sections of society to avoid all forms of prejudice and help the city win its fight against the epidemic.
The findings came three weeks after the EOC advised Kwong Wing Catering, a popular local restaurant chain — which supported the anti-government protesters who took to the city's streets from last June — to remove notices displayed at its outlets. Those posters said the eatery would only serve Hongkongers and that its staff did not speak Mandarin.
At that time, the commission said although the language spoken by someone was not included in the legislation's definition of race, "language-related requirements or conditions may result in indirect discrimination against a particular ethnic group if members of this group are unable to meet those requirements ... and suffer detrimental treatment as a result".
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