HONG KONG’S social distancing rules are undergoing further easing this month as disease experts step up calls for the SAR government to review its stop-start methods of reacting to Covid surges.
The latest development comes as a new subway station directly serving Hong Kong Exhibition Centre is due to open while business leaders are urging a rethink on suspending flight routes for airlines with passengers who test positive for Covid on arriving in the city.
HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam brought forward the lifting of rules that closed public swimming pools, beaches and gyms while restricting the numbers of diners seated at restaurant or banquet tables. Compulsory mask wearing while hiking in country parks or exercising outdoors has also been lifted.
Compulsory quarantine involving a seven-day stay at a designated hotel remains in force for arrivals in the city regardless of whether they are fully vaccinated and tested negative for Covid. This is among the measures that continues to rankle international business leaders and event organisers in the city, especially as other destinations such as Singapore have adopted a living-with-Covid policy with borders open to travellers.
The opening of the Exhibition Centre MTR station on May 15 is being seen as a symbol of hope among business event organisers in the city as it would make the venue more easily accessible for delegates using hotels in Kowloon and the New Territories closer to the border with mainland China. AsiaWorld-Expo, the mega venue near Hong Kong International Airport, is also served by an MTR station.
The 46km East Rail Line Cross-Harbour Extension provides a third rail link across Victoria Harbour to connect Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre to Hung Hom in east Kowloon and New Territories towns such as Sha Tin, the location of hotels operated by Marriott and Hyatt among others.
Medical experts in the city are reported to be divided over whether to term the coronavirus “endemic” as cases of reported outbreaks are declining daily since a surge of the Omicron variant in February triggered a return of anti-Covid restrictions. The measures have had a heavy impact on small businesses with lingering uncertainty as event organisers and their suppliers continue to count the cost.
Live-event organisers in the city recently convened online meetings with a view to organising an association to lobby government officials over the problems the industry has suffered because of the Covid slowdown. It is understood, however, that the concept has been placed on the “back burner” in favour of working with an existing association that has more influence with the government beyond existing as a “talking shop”.
After yet another cancellation of the RISE web conference in March, and postponements of the Sevens rugby weekend, some are eyeing July 1 and the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return of sovereignty to China. An event with Chinese president Xi Jinping as guest of honour would look much better on the world’s TV screens if participants did not have to wear masks.
Uncertainty, however, whether it concerns mask wearing or Hong Kong’s easing of international travel restrictions remain, but bars may open to 2am and you can seat eight at your table.