There will be mooncakes and lanterns, but spike in Hong Kong Covid-19 infections dampens Mid-Autumn Festival mood
- Restaurants say diners put off by Covid-19 testing requirements are choosing to celebrate at home
- Fewer families are eating out compared with last year, when infection numbers were much lower
Hongkonger Richard Li is looking forward to a Mid-Autumn Festival family gathering this weekend, after celebrations were cancelled for two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 29-year-old senior actuarial associate, who lives on his own, will join his grandfather, grandaunt, uncle and cousins at the family home in Lok Fu in Wong Tai Sin district.
Before the pandemic, the family used to celebrate at a Chinese restaurant, but they decided to eat at home this year because of concerns about being in crowded places, especially with the recent rise in Covid-19 infections.
They will also take extra precautions because his grandfather is in his mid-90s.
“We will do rapid antigen tests before we meet,” Li said.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is the second-biggest Chinese holiday after the Lunar New Year and is celebrated on the night when the moon is at its fullest and brightest – the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar, which falls on September 10 this year.
It recalls the legend of Chang’e, the goddess on the moon, and families celebrate by getting together for meals featuring auspicious dishes and mooncakes, with lanterns for the children.
At Li’s family gathering, there will be home-made Cantonese dishes including steamed fish, and takeaway roast meat items like char siu. He has also bought mooncakes.
The daily number of new cases has hovered around 9,000 to 10,000 recently, with health authorities on Friday logging 10,076 Covid-19 infections and 11 more deaths.
The recent spike in infections has dampened the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations for the city’s catering industry, given current restrictions.
Under a measure in force since last month, banquet guests or groups of more than eight diners have to present a photo of a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) result obtained up to 24 hours earlier.
They can also show a text message confirming a negative result for a polymerase chain reaction test issued within the previous 48 hours.
The requirement extended an earlier rule for bar-goers to restaurant patrons.
Ray Chui Man-wai, chairman of the food and beverage industry group Institute of Dining Art, expected Mid-Autumn Festival business to decline compared with last year, when daily infections went as low as single digits.
But he said he believed many Hongkongers were not as worried about the pandemic as they were last year, when they avoided eating out, and especially after the city came through the fifth wave of infections early this year, when cases surged past 50,000 a day at its peak.
“After going through the fifth wave for three to four months, with many Hongkongers getting infected, many think there is not much to be worried about,” he said.
But restaurants were still dealing with multiple cancellations because people were taking care to prevent vulnerable family members from contracting the virus.
Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said bookings this year had reached only 50 per cent of restaurant capacity, compared with 90 per cent last year.
Those with bigger families were more likely to eat at home to avoid having to take a RAT, and bookings were mainly for tables of six or seven people.
Sales of Mid-Autumn hampers – usually an assortment of fruit, wine or mooncakes – have also fallen this year, said Justin Chung, chief executive officer of Gift Hampers HK.
He said his company had found it hard to hire casual workers to pack hampers, as many preferred doing better-paying anti-pandemic jobs with the government.
“We can’t pay that kind of money, unfortunately,” he said.
The lack of manpower meant his company had to focus on bigger, costlier hampers, and could not serve customers who wanted smaller, less expensive ones.