The latest relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in the territory comes as a third wave appears to be easing.
A week after Hong Kong allowed restaurants to resume nighttime dine-in services and reopened cinemas and outdoor sports venues, social distancing measures are being further loosened from midnight tonight. Gyms and other indoor recreational facilities will be permitted to operate under new rules that will remain in force until September 10.
Health Secretary Sophia Chan announced the move at a press briefing yesterday, and said dining hours at eateries would be extended from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. each night. She added that the decision was based on feedback from members of the public and those in the catering industry. “We listened to the citizens telling us that sometimes it’s a bit rushed in having dinner because Hong Kong people tend to work late, and so therefore slightly extending by one hour would serve the purpose,” she said, as quoted by Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).
As for gyms, a government statement says all patrons are “required to wear a mask all the time except when having a shower,” with no more than four people allowed at each fitness station or machine. Each fitness class or group training session can only have a maximum of four people, including the coach.
Authorities are also reopening other indoor sports premises, which include badminton courts, table tennis venues, snooker and billiard rooms, tennis courts, bowling alleys, and climbing walls. But mask-wearing will be mandatory and venues must limit group sizes to four people. Swimming pools (even those located outdoors) must remain closed, along with entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars, karaoke lounges, and mahjong parlors. The government’s ongoing ban on public gatherings of more than two people will be extended for another week.
In related news, Hong Kong rolled out a free universal testing program on Tuesday, with residents encouraged to register on a voluntary basis. Under the Beijing-backed scheme, medical teams have been brought in from mainland China to conduct swab tests and help weed out asymptomatic carriers of the virus. More than 800,000 Hong Kong residents have signed up for the tests so far, though local health experts have raised doubts about its overall effectiveness, saying a targeted approach through contact tracing would be a better use of resources.