HK to ease curbs on on-trade with vaccine incentive

Social distancing measures at Hong Kong restaurants and bars are expected to be relaxed on the basis that employees and customers are vaccinated.

After putting the restrictions in force for months, Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, finally announced plans to lift the measures on local restaurants and bars in phases.

The current social distancing measures, which include limiting restaurant tables to four passengers and operation time till 10pm, would be extended for another two weeks to 28 April due to the possibility of a rebound in confirmed cases after the Easter holiday.

Following the date, a plan for easing the restrictions on restaurants will be rolled out on 29 April at the earliest. Various sets of conditions will also be introduced based on the group size with a maximum of twelve people per table.

The first level would allow tables of six people and extended operation hours until midnight. Instead of filling in personal details in the forms provided by the outlet, customers are compulsory to record their visit using the contact-tracing app ‘Leave Home Safe’ and restaurant staff are required to have received at least the first vaccine.

The restrictions of running at less than half of their original capacity, with no more than 20 diners allowed at a banquet will still be in place.

The next stage requires all restaurant employees to get fully vaccinated and customers to have received at least one jab. Under such circumstance, customers are allowed to dine in groups of eight and banquets serving 100 people, and operating hours for dine-in services extended to 2am.

For the final phase of the plan, each table could sit up to twelve diners only if all employees and customers had been fully vaccinated.

According to Lam, restaurants would need to designate specific “clean zones” on their premises catering for customers who had been given at least one dose. After setting up the “vaccination bubble” in the city, it is hoped that the social-distancing regulations can be adjusted based on vaccinations.

In her announcement, bars and pubs would also be allowed to reopen on the condition that every employee and customer had received their first jab and all customers used the ‘Leave Home Safe’ app to record their visit. Similar to the case of restaurants, the limitations could be further lifted when all staff and customers had been fully vaccinated.

Although the offer of extending the operation hours and table size is very attractive, the plan has not been welcomed by the industry.

It has been criticised for being confusing and not mentioning how to deal with cases such as a group of customers who are partly vaccinated only. Also, it does not provide any guideline for staff member to execute the differentiation of vaccinated customers.

Hospitality owners find it unfair to have to take responsibility for getting their staff to get jabbed in order to meet the criteria for easing of the measure. An industry insider told db that although the intention of the widespread vaccination program is good, he finds it unreasonable to shoulder the responsibility, and it does not make sense to force an employee to receive the vaccination even though he is reluctant due to potential negative side effects.

The HK government is offering a citywide complimentary Covid vaccination programme with the vaccine choices of BioNtec and Sinovac. According to official data, up until 12 April,  877,900 people in Hong Kong have been given the vaccination, with about 597,400 people receiving their first dose and around 280,500 people getting their second dose.

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