Coronavirus: famed Hong Kong nightlife district Lan Kwai Fong buzzing again as social-distancing curbs are eased further
- City has pressed ahead with latest stage of eased restrictions, allowing bars, party rooms, karaoke lounges, mahjong parlours and more venues to open
- Ben Leung, charter president of the Licensed Bar and Club Association of Hong Kong, says industry faces difficulties in hiring workers
Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district was buzzing once again on Thursday night after social-distancing curbs were eased further, with some bars and restaurants fully booked – but industry chiefs voiced concern about manpower shortages.
Hundreds of revellers were scattered in groups around the popular Central entertainment spot, with people hanging out over a drink with friends against a backdrop of loud dance music.
Under the latest relaxation of curbs following the city’s fifth Covid-19 wave receding, bars, party rooms, karaoke lounges, mahjong parlours, nightclubs, bathhouses and cruises can now resume operations for the first time since early January.
“Many folks including myself have been looking for little bits of normality again and knowing some of my own friends’ and others’ businesses are still scraping by, I’d be hoping things can open up [more] for them soon enough,” said Adrian L, a 30-year-old banking executive who was out with friends from 6pm.
Resident Gary Linacre had requested leave from work for Friday and visited bars in the Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan area with friends on Thursday night. He was also looking forward to celebrating his 32nd birthday over the weekend.
“I’m quite excited as I’ve wanted to be able to go out and do normal things that other parts of the world have been doing for months … Enjoy the freedoms while they last, as you never know when they’ll be restricted again,” he said.
Health officials reported 291 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday, including 38 imported ones, as well as one more death. The city’s coronavirus tally now stands at 1,209,688 cases, with 9,366 related fatalities.
The government, meanwhile, announced it would relaunch an online platform for people to report their non-local vaccination records on Friday.
Those who do not have to declare an overseas record of recovery from Covid-19 can go online to fulfil their vaccine pass requirement. However, those who did not report their recovery overseas to health officers when entering the city will still have to take the old route and visit a post office for the documents.
Professor Gabriel Leung, dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), had warned on social media last week that the city was “on the cusp of a potential sixth wave if things tilt in the wrong direction”.
But Linacre said he believed there was nothing to worry about, explaining that he was triple-vaccinated and had already recovered from Covid-19 twice. He also dismissed fears about a growing restaurant cluster in Sheung Wan
“I can’t continue to live life in fear of something that has a low fatality rate for those who are vaccinated,” he said.
From Thursday, bars are allowed to operate until 2am with up to four people per table. Restaurants can extend service hours from 10pm to midnight. The 20-person limit at wedding banquets has been increased to 120.
An operating capacity limit of 50 per cent for cinemas and some other premises has been raised to 85 per cent, with eating and drinking now allowed in cinemas under the eased curbs.
Nikki-Laren Quant, 28, an English teacher, had dinner at a new restaurant in Central with four other friends and would be able to stay beyond 10pm.
“To be honest, I’ll probably head out much more, just because we haven’t been able to and we’ve been deprived of that for so long. I want to have more experiences while I can,” she said.
Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group, told the Post that some bars and restaurants in the area were fully booked for Thursday night. He said he expected police to conduct more stringent checks around the area.
Some workers were also expected to work late as the sector was facing hiring difficulties, with one manager telling Zeman they had given their hostesses time off to prepare for the long working hours ahead.
Zeman also criticised the ban on live performances and dancing in bars and clubs, saying experts who made the recommendations did not fully understand how the industry worked.
Ben Leung Lap-yan, charter president of the Licensed Bar and Club Association of Hong Kong, said 90 per cent of employees had changed industries or taken on other part-time jobs since the fifth wave struck.
“Our operations kept stopping during the pandemic … Workers are worried that they have to stop working again after they return to the industry,” he said. “I believe many manpower issues will arise.”
Leung added that he hoped business could rebound between 50 and 60 per cent, but said he did not have high expectations because of the four-person limit.
Hong Kong Party Room Association chairman Leonard Lam estimated that business in the sector could reach up to 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in three months, as customer inquiries had surged after the reopening was announced.
He told a radio programme that operators were set to welcome back patrons, with all staff having completed their vaccination course and the rooms disinfected.
Lam said some rooms with a larger capacity of 30 to 40 people had to be partitioned to meet the cap of eight. Certain facilities on such premises, such as ball and barbecue pits, remain closed.
Brian Chui Wai-ho, co-founder of party room booking platform ReUbird, said many places were fully booked for the weekend but weekday slots were still available.
Merchants had resumed marketing campaigns and were offering discounts as more patrons booked rooms, including giving them an extra 30 minutes to one hour for free, he said.
Vincent Leung, a 45-year-old professor, said he was making plans to sing at a karaoke bar with several friends sometime later. Under the latest rules, up to eight people are allowed per table.
“I was not a regular visitor and would maybe go twice a year. But the [restrictions] did make me miss it and I would like to go again soon,” he said.
Leung said he hoped to know more about how the government would respond if there was a new wave of Covid-19 cases.
“With the now much higher vaccination rates, compared with the start of the fifth wave, it seems reasonable to assume that the harsh social-distancing and lockdown measures would not be necessary moving forward. But there’s not a lot of clarity about that,” he said.
Meanwhile, Wendy Wong Hung-ying, a manager at Windsor Spa at Fortress Hill, noted an increase in the number of bookings.
She estimated her branch had received at least 10 per cent more reservations, but said there was a staff shortage as many employees had left when businesses closed under the fifth wave. Wong said she had to hire another four-to-five temporary staff to cope with the rise in bookings.
Additional reporting by Victor Ting