The catering sector has continued its pushback against the government’s plan to ban alcohol sales in restaurants and pubs, saying such steps will not help contain coronavirus outbreaks, and eateries are already implementing social distancing measures.
The lawmaker representing the sector, Tommy Cheung, said some establishments have already implemented social distancing measures and a liquor ban will be tantamount to a closure of their premises.
Cheung, who is also the chairman of the pro-business Liberal Party, said restaurants are refusing to serve anyone with quarantine bracelets and reporting such would-be customers to the police.
They are also insisting that customers wear a mask when they enter the premises, and again when they leave, he said.
Cheung said bars and restaurants are also looking at how they can keep customers further apart, and in smaller groups.
“We can try to have customers 1.5 metres apart, table to table, at the same table we do not sit more than four people,” he said. “If they can get a partition, some form of partition between tables.”
Cheung said these moves will ensure enough social distancing in bars and restaurants.
He said the establishments he represents vary in size from 100 square feet to over 10,000.
"Some are willing to do it quickly, some have already done it, others have to see how they can do it after they talk to the management and owners. So we are working on social distancing."
The catering sector lawmaker said he is also speaking to fast-food chains about stopping dine-in services after 6pm, a measure McDonald's has already implemented.
He said if the Carrie Lam administration goes ahead with the alcohol ban, business owners should be compensated for the loss of trade.
“The government has to come up with compensation. We are talking about compensation in rent, compensation in salary and definitely waiving the rates that the government charges.”
But Cheung admitted things are looking bad for everyone.
"Given the rapid succession of downgrades, we should likely expect more pain over the short-term, as the situation in New York and California continues to deteriorate. And with the entire population of India going into a government-enforced 21-day nationwide curfew, it doesn't suggest blue sky,” he said.
He said he hopes that the US economic package will be sufficient to avoid Main Street from falling into a “worst-case depression type scenario".
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Wine and Spirits Association said the government should introduce hygiene guidelines for local bars and pubs in the wake of the virus outbreak, and order closures if they fail to observe the rules.
It said it is opposed to a liquor ban, and alcohol is "not the culprit".
The association said the SAR could follow the practice in Shenzhen, where customers who have fever or a cold are forbidden from entering restaurants.