Hong Kong to relaxrelax social distancing rules as pandemic stabilizes

Sep 09 , 2020. 12 hours ago – 22:33 KYODO NEWS

A couple eat their meal at a typhoon shelter on July 30, 2020 in Hong Kong. (Getty/Kyodo)

HONG KONG – Hong Kong will further relax social distancing measures, including reopening theme parks and allowing exhibitions and conventions, should the coronavirus situation continue to stabilize, the city’s health secretary said Tuesday while announcing relaxation of rules by the end of the week.

Starting Friday, the two-people per table restriction at restaurants will be expanded to four-people while most sports venues and entertainment premises such as electronic games centers, recreational and performance spots and mahjong parlors will also be open for business.

Bars and karaoke salons will remain closed.

“Under this new normal, we have adopted a phased approach. Not only do we want to gradually relax or should we say lift some of the measures, or (opening) some of the premises that we have closed, it should be also in a gradual, step-by-step manner,” Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan told reporters.

“If the situation is stable…we will be lifting some of the measures and also open some of the premises on the 18th,” she said.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said theme parks and exhibition and convention activities can hopefully resume in 10 days should the coronavirus situation remain stable.

Six confirmed cases were reported Tuesday, taking the total tally to 4,895, with 99 deaths, according to official figures.

Yau also said Hong Kong is engaging with 11 countries on setting up travel bubbles, but mutual agreements on protocol must first be established, including health checks before boarding and upon arrival, and additional restrictions to be agreed upon by each party.

“The timetable would be a matter of bilateral agreement between Hong Kong and the partner countries. It all depends on how ready and how comfortable both parties are with the situation,” he said, adding that such agreements are not imminent as the situation remains fluid.

Hong Kong is in dialogue with Japan and Thailand over the scheme, while other countries contacted include South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, France, Switzerland, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, Yau said. He said Germany will also represent European Union member states in talks.

A source at the Japanese Consulate General confirmed that discussions on travel bubble are ongoing. Issues of concern, including virus testing capability upon arrival in Japan and application of visitor tracking technology, are unlikely to be solved soon.

Japan received 2.29 million visitors from Hong Kong last year, compared with just 20 visitors in July, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

Foreign visitors have been banned from entering Hong Kong since March as the government put in place measures to fight the pandemic, while Hong Kong residents returning from foreign countries are subject to 14-day compulsory quarantine.

CR:KYODO NEWS