The latest lifting of curbs on restaurant dine-in hours and other social activities, such as taking photos without masks at events inside certain premises, marks another step towards normality under a stubborn epidemic. Welcome as they are, the tweaks are too little too late for many who have become increasingly impatient with the slow pace of easing social-distancing rules.
The government’s decision against further opening up at this stage continues to strain the economy, reflected in the indefinite closure of all branches of a leading tour company. Hong Thai Travel Services said the move was to “temporarily operate at minimal cost to reserve its strength until the full reopening of the borders”. The mother company yesterday said the agency would begin voluntary winding-up proceedings.
When the hotel quarantine requirement for arrivals was dropped a month ago, hopes were high that the Covid-battered tourism sector would be thrown a lifeline. While outbound group tours have gradually returned, the industry is not out of the woods yet. With visitors’ access to restaurants and venues still restricted on the first three days of their arrival, inbound tourism remains limited.
The government is adamant that it is too risky to lift both testing requirements and restrictions of movement, referring to a 10 per cent rise in imported infections over the past week. But prudence comes at a heavy cost.
Many businesses have sacked workers or folded as a result of the toll curbs have taken on the economy. Until unrestricted travel, particularly between the mainland and Hong Kong, is fully resumed, collateral damage may worsen.
The lack of a road map and a timetable for recovery continues to irk many. But officials argue that strategies are clear, and point to the pledge to provide sufficient room for people to pursue their livelihoods and economic activities. They also say the way forward will depend on the Covid-19 situation. Be that as it may, the pace still falls short of what many of the public expect.
The city has suffered for nearly three years. What people need is more than being able to go to barbecues or take off their masks for a moment to take photos at banquets. Greater clarity on the way forward is called for.