Limits on private gatherings are being imposed, and the unvaccinated will be barred from most public places starting on February 24.
As Hong Kong battles a fifth wave of coronavirus in the wake of the Chinese New Year holidays, Chief Executive Carrie Lam outlined a raft of tougher measures at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. From Thursday (February 10), the government will reinstate a ban on public gatherings of more than two people, and expand social distancing restrictions to non-public areas for the first time. No more than two households will be allowed to gather in a private setting, though it remains to be seen how this rule can be enforced. Places of worship and hair salons must close for two weeks through the 23rd, and restaurants will be subject to a limit of two people per table, except in venues whose staff members have all been fully vaccinated (where the limit is raised to four).
Authorities will also introduce a new “vaccine pass” from February 24 required to enter a whole range of public places, including malls, department stores, supermarkets, and wet markets. Random checks on vaccination records will be carried out, and the tool will start being used at restaurants this Thursday. Entertainment venues and recreational facilities such as gyms and theme parks have been shut since early January; they will not be allowed to operate until at least the 24th.
The pass will be exempt for children aged under 12 and those deemed medically unfit for vaccination. In the first phase, anyone over 12 years old must have received at least one dose to gain entry to the aforementioned places. Come April, all residents aged over 18 will need to be double-vaccinated to maintain access, and from the end of June, adults who received their second dose more than nine months beforehand will be required to get a booster shot. The city’s leader has not ruled out barring the unvaccinated from public transport depending on how the current outbreak evolves, and said penalties for those who ignore a compulsory testing notice will be doubled to HK$10,000 (US$1,283).
The new rules were made public shortly before health officials reported a record high of 625 new cases, nearly all of which were locally transmitted. Lam said her administration would only move away from the “dynamic zero” strategy after raising the overall vaccination rate above 90 percent and dramatically improving the lackluster take-up among the elderly. As of February 8, just under 50 percent of all Hong Kong residents aged 70 and above have received at least one dose; the rate falls to a dismal 33 percent for those aged 80 or more.