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Homeland Security

Radio Free Asia

Hong Kong to ban public gatherings, mandate vaccine passes for stores, eateries

By Cheryl Tung and Jojo Man 2022.02.09 -- Authorities in Hong Kong on Wednesday announced a ban on public gatherings of more than two people, with the "LeaveHomeSafe" tracker app required to get into supermarkets, public markets, hair salons and places of worship, prompting long lines to form on the streets as people rushed to get a haircut before the restrictions took effect.

The gathering ban followed a "drastic deterioration of the epidemic situation in Hong Kong," the government said in a statement, which will effectively only allow those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and who are willing to use the tracker app to go shopping or use other businesses.

"The ... restriction on the number of persons allowed per group gathering in a public place will be reduced from four to two," the statement said, adding that private gatherings involving more than two households will also be banned, while cafes, restaurants and other catering businesses will be limited to takeout only unless they operate the LeaveHomeSafe tracker system.

The owner of a Tsuen Wan district barber shop said she would be forced to close during the restrictions.

"My main feeling is that I want to say something rude ... because we shouldn't be affected by this," the owner, who gave only the name Elisa, said. "It doesn't take very long to serve a customer, and they don't stay her for very long, so ... I don't think the measures need to be this tight."

She hopes the emergency restrictions will only last for their initial 14-day period.

"We can just about wait it out for two weeks, but not for another two weeks after that," she said.

A customer surnamed Fong agreed.

"I don't think the risk is that big," he said. "They sterilize everything ... and I wear a mask, so I don't think the risk of infection is that great."

Under the new rules, masks will be mandatory on public transportation, although the majority of people were already wearing them anyway.

"Any person who participates in a prohibited group gathering; organizes a prohibited group gathering; owns, controls or operates the place of such a gathering; and knowingly allows the taking place of such gathering commits an offense ... are liable to a maximum fine of H.K.$25,000 and imprisonment for six months," the government warned, although fixed-penalty tickets of H.K.$5,000 may be paid instead.


The restrictions came as the city's government struggled to contain community transmission of the omicron variant of COVID-19 despite the ruling Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) insistence on a "zero-COVID" policy nationwide.

Local cases were reported at 1,161 on Wednesday, with only eight cases known to be brought in from overseas, with two deaths, two in a critical condition, and three seriously ill, the Hospital Authority said.

The rise in cases has prompted the evacuation of some care homes, while the public is being warned not to go to emergency rooms at public hospitals if they have tested positive for COVID-19, with occupancy rates already around 90 percent in many hospitals.

Long lines have also been forming this week outside testing centers, amid a citywide testing program that has tested some 1.7 million people so far.

Many of those tested have been subject to compulsory testing orders as part of targeted lockdowns of residential complexes in different neighborhoods around the city.

Zhao Yantao, an adjunct associate professor at the School of Biomedical Sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and founder of testing contractor Xiangda Biotechnology said the testing regime has so far been too inefficient to catch all of the cases.

"There is a risk of reinfection because people move around, and the viral load varies greatly over time, so it can show as negative today and positive tomorrow," Zhao told RFA. "This is more of a pilot for the nationwide testing program, to educate people."

The strategy is in stark contrast with that of Singapore, where the authorities have long since abandoned any hope of a "zero-COVID" strategy, although there are still some restrictions on the size of groups dining at restaurants.

Some 90 percent of adults have already received two doses of vaccine, as proof of vaccination is a requirement for many activities, including attending some workplaces and dining in at restaurants.

Nonetheless, Liang Wannian of the National Health Commission in Beijing has said that the "zero-COVID" strategy is still the best approach for Hong Kong.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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