Hong Kong has banned the sale of alcohol in the city’s on-trade and is considering closing 8,600 bars, restaurants and clubs to reduce mass gatherings and contain the further spread of a fresh Covid-19 outbreak.
After weeks of calm, Hong Kong is now facing a second outbreak of Covid-19 with the number of cases spiking from 167 to 356 in just five days, many of which are imported cases.
As the number of new cases has been linked with restaurants and bars in the Lan Kwai Fong area, the famous nightlife hub in the city, government officials have been advising residents to refrain from dining or drinking out, as people take off their face masks on these occasions.
Over the weekend, medical experts have also suggested the possibility of shutting restaurants and bars to enforce social distancing.
On 21 March, chief executive Carrie Lam announced the local government was prohibiting the liquor license issued to 8,600 restaurants, bars and clubs, hopefully to stop close contact between people. If the situation continues to worsen, Lam says the government may consider limiting the operating hours and seat numbers of restaurants as well.
The effective period of the law amendment is yet to be revealed but is expected to come into force soon. However, the announcement has swiftly stirred up turmoil in the F&B industry.
A local restauranteur told db Asia that the news is a huge blow for the industry as it relies heavily on beverage sales to boost revenue.
“We think it’s fair for the government to shut all the eateries in town in order to minimise the infection risk, but we are mad at the recent announcement – why are they only forbidding the sale of alcohol only?” asked Cat Hou, chair of the Bartenders & Mixologists Union of Hong Kong.
Hou continued: “The industry has been struck down with bad business in previous months. Some of us can still strive to break even during this period yet the government is basically asking all the bartenders to stop working now, not to mention they are not making any compensation for us. In view of the skyrocket high operating costs in Hong Kong, including the outrageous rent, how can bars survive under this situation?”
The current measure is aimed solely at the on-trade sector and the retail sector is not expected to be affected.