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Customers at a bar in Lan Kwai Fong. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Coronavirus: return of live shows is music to the ears of struggling bar owners in Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong authorities reveal that live performances will be allowed in a host of venues from next week, but entertainers will need to take Covid-19 tests
  • While operators welcome the move, they call on government to do more, such as scrap the 2am closing time and limits on seating
Bar operators have welcomed the return of live music in Hong Kong, with some predicting as much as a 30 per cent boost in business when the latest relaxation of social-distancing rules takes effect next week.
Live performances were banned along with a host of other activities more than two years ago as part of efforts to control the spread of Covid-19. Combined with limits on business hours, venue capacity and number of patrons per table, the nightlife hotspots of the city have struggled to survive.

Chin Chun-wing, the chairman of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association, welcomed the move as timely.

“Peak seasons such as Halloween and the World Cup are approaching. The relaxation will help the industry hold themed events to promote publicity and stimulate the atmosphere of bars,” Chin said, adding he expected business to increase by as much as 30 per cent as a result.

“Allowing bars to have live performances can help drive the atmosphere there, attracting old customers and appealing to new ones.”

Chin Chun-wing, the chairman of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

But Chin urged the government to ease the curb on business hours, and allow the establishments to operate past 2am. Before the pandemic, bars and pubs could set their own hours of operation.

“Many in the industry are puzzled by the 2am rule,” he said. “The current relaxation means the government also believes that the pandemic is under control. Now that patrons have to undergo a rapid test before being given entry, I think the risk has been minimised.

“If the business restrictions are still maintained, it will not only affect the business of the industry, but I also worry that customers will turn to unlicensed bars, resulting in risks such as hygiene and substance abuse.”

Announcing the new rules on Thursday, Undersecretary for Health Libby Lee Ha-yun said that from October 20, a range of premises, including restaurants, bars, nightclubs, museums, cinemas and hotels, could host live performances.

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Performers would need to take polymerase chain reaction tests twice a week and present a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) result at the venue on the day of the show. They also need to keep masks on and maintain distance from the audience as much as possible.

In another change, eating and drinking would also be allowed at public outdoor areas of theme parks from next Thursday, Lee said.

Officials were also considering easing the cap on the number of people allowed to gather in public from four to 12, she said.

The loosening of the Covid rules came despite the city reporting 5,622 new Covid infections on Thursday, the first time daily infections crossed the 5,000 mark since September 24, along with eight more related deaths.

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But government pandemic adviser Professor David Hui Shu-cheong said he was satisfied the city’s high vaccination rate and acquired immunity could contain surges in caseloads.

He too backed the idea of allowing restaurants and nightclubs to remain open for longer hours.

Respiratory medicine specialist Dr Leung Chi-chiu said it was “golden time” for the gradual relaxation of rules as long as cases did not jump significantly and put pressure on the hospitals.

“This relaxation may have a short-term effect on the infection number, which may lead to a fluctuation,” he said. “The transmission of the virus will not be swayed by the relaxation of social-distancing rules. It is mainly affected by past large-scale outbreaks, the booster rate and the natural fading of immunity.”

He added that the potential easing of the cap on public gatherings would merely be “an alignment” with the current measures which allowed 12 people to dine at the same table at eateries.

Peter Shiu Ka-fai, legislator and chairman of the pro-business Liberal Party, hailed the latest easing as “a step in the right direction” and also called for relaxing the cap on public gatherings.

“Officials perhaps need to explain to the public, why we can allow 12 people to sit and eat together in a restaurant, but when they go out of the restaurant after dining they have to split into groups of four,” he said. “Does that mean the risk of infections outdoors is higher than that inside a restaurant?”

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Fellow legislator Edward Leung Hei, health affairs spokesman for the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, shared a similar view.

“Air circulation is much better outdoors, and as people would need to wear masks outdoors, the risk of getting infected is rather low,” Leung said.

He also expressed hope the government could remove the remaining restrictions on the business hours of bars and restaurants and the number of people allowed per table as soon as possible.