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HK to ban gatherings of more than four people

2020-03-27 HKT 18:43
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  • HK to ban gatherings of more than four people
  • The government is taking new steps to try to limit the spread of coronavirus in the city. File photo: AFP
    The government is taking new steps to try to limit the spread of coronavirus in the city. File photo: AFP
Hong Kong is imposing new measures aimed at reducing the number of local infections of Covid-19, including limiting the number of people who can gather together to just four – albeit with some exceptions.

The ban on more than four people getting together in public places will apply both indoors and outdoors for two weeks from Sunday, with offenders liable to a fine of up to HK$25,000 and six months in prison.

There's no limit on how many people can congregate in private settings or at a place of work, and the rule does not apply to public transport, courts, government buildings, Legco or district council meetings, weddings and funerals.

Restaurants are being ordered to slash the maximum number of customers they can host at any one time by 50 percent, with a cap of four people at each table, and with tables placed at least 1.5 metres apart from each other.

Cinemas, gyms, amusement game centres and other entertainment venues are being told to close from 6pm on Saturday.

But a plan to temporarily outlaw the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants has been abandoned, after the idea was met by a mixture of bewilderment and derision in some quarters.

The moves were announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday evening, following an emergency meeting of the Executive Council in the afternoon. The administration unveiled a new slogan for the crisis at its press briefing: "Stay home, keep safe".

Lam urged companies hit by the new measures not to fire any members of staff, saying this would affect the firms' chances of receiving government subsidies.

The CE had faced mounting calls to boost efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the city, with a recent surge in the number of infected people returning from abroad, and clusters of cases linked to bars.

In the face of demands for more action, Lam had announced on Monday that a temporary ban on alcohol sales in bars and restaurants was on the cards – a plan that was ridiculed by some, but welcomed by others.

Medical experts themselves were split on how effective an alcohol ban would be, despite fears the virus was spreading through people drinking and working in bars in various parts of the city.

But drinkers have been spared a life under prohibition, with no booze ban among the new steps. Lam said she had merely "proposed" such a move.

At the press briefing, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said everyone arriving in Hong Kong will now be given bottles to provide samples for Covid-19 tests. She said arrivals can either go straight to a facility set up at AsiaWorld-Expo to deliver the samples, or they could go home first and start their 14-day quarantine, getting their relatives to return the bottles.

Security Secretary John Lee, meanwhile, said that since March 19, police had caught 77 people violating orders to isolate themselves and they had been taken to quarantine centres. Around 40 of the offenders were reported by the public and Lee thanked people for notifying the police.

A jump of 65 additional coronavirus cases on Friday – a daily high – brought the total number of infections recorded in the SAR to 518. There have been four fatalities in the city.