- The government will further relax Covid-19 restrictions in the second half of May unless there is a sudden surge in infections
- Beaches, bars and karaoke venues will reopen in phase two, and more people will be allowed to dine together in restaurants
Hong Kong will stick to its plan to further relax social-distancing measures in the second half of May, the city’s leader said on Tuesday, ruling out the chances of an earlier reopening despite an improving pandemic situation.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government would start discussing when to proceed to the second phase of relaxation in May, and the arrangement would come in the second half of the month.
“It is gratifying to know that after more than three months since the fifth wave hit us hard in Hong Kong, we are on the path to return to or resume normal activities,” she told a press briefing before the weekly meeting of her de facto cabinet.
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The first phase of relaxation following the fifth wave of infections began on April 21 with the resumption of dine-in services at restaurants until 10pm, while facilities such as cinemas, parks, sports grounds and gyms were also allowed to reopen.
The second phase will involve allowing more people to dine together and the reopening of venues such as public beaches, bars and karaoke bars.
Many Hong Kong students have already returned to the classroom for half-day lessons, and Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) candidates are currently sitting for the exams in person.
Lam described the Covid-19 situation as “increasingly stable” as the daily caseload had dropped to 431 on Monday, maintaining a level of no more than 1,000 daily infections for two weeks. Her
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Lam also said the percentage of cases detected through sewage testing had fallen from 0.72 per cent on April 15 to 0.23 per cent, calling it an “optimistic decline”.
She said the government would press ahead with loosening social-distancing measures unless there was a sudden surge in infections again, a scenario she called “unlikely”.
Lam attributed it to the “hybrid immunity” that Hong Kong had attained because of vaccination and the large number of people infected previously.
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The government lifted a blanket ban on flights from nine countries on April 1 and announced further easing of travel curbs on Friday, saying foreigners would be allowed to fly into the city starting next month.
The threshold for suspending incoming flights carrying infected passengers would also be relaxed starting on May 1, from three people to five, or 5 per cent of those on a flight, whichever was greater.
Professor Ivan Hung Fan-ngai, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and a government adviser on vaccines, said on Sunday that the city could relax social-distancing measures sooner than planned, as the epidemic was becoming stable. He noted the population had largely acquired immunity and the chance of a rebound in cases was low.
On Monday, he added that the government could also consider dropping the flight suspension mechanism entirely
Dr Ho Pak-leung of HKU’s microbiology department said he supported the suggestion so long as authorities could speed up efforts to boost the city’s vaccination rate and better implement the vaccine pass.