Face Off: Should Hong Kong’s Covid-19 dine-in ban be lifted?

  • Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint
  • This week, students discuss whether a key coronavirus social-distancing measure should end
Kelly Fung |

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A ban on eating in at restaurants after 6pm has been in place for quite a while. Is it time to lift the restriction? Photo: SCMP / Dickson Lee

Joshua Cheng, Indiana University Bloomington, US

No, this is not the right time to do it because dozens of coronavirus infections are still being reported almost every day in Hong Kong.

The government should continue to implement the strict social-distancing measures that were introduced several weeks ago. This is the only way to stop the spread of this disease.

When eating, we have to remove the face coverings which help to prevent people from catching the virus. This creates an infectious environment for the customers and those around them, as well as the waiters.

People tend to take longer over dinner than lunch, and be more relaxed because they have finished work or school for the day. They will spend longer in restaurants than they do at lunch.

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There may be people in the restaurant who have Covid-19 but don’t show any symptoms. If they pass on the disease, it could lead to massive outbreaks all over the city, for example, in offices, hospitals and long-term care facilities, causing more deaths and suffering.

In fact, in Hong Kong, some coronavirus cases have been directly linked to “hotpot groups” in restaurants.

If we were to lift the evening dining ban, the situation could quite likely become worse, and it will be even harder to bring down the Covid-19 infections.

Additionally, Hong Kong has yet to receive the coronavirus vaccine. We should wait until people are better protected from the virus before putting them at higher risk by allowing them to dine in at restaurants after 6pm. So I believe the evening dine-in ban should remain for now.

What's it like to eat with more than one other person? We don't remember. Photo: SCMP / Sam Tsang

Yuhan Huang, 14, German Swiss International School

Authorities should consider lifting the ban, to ease the pressure on both restaurant owners and diners.

Restaurants have been operating at 50 per cent capacity with a seating cap at two people per table for a while. As a result, many are struggling to stay afloat.

In addition, the ban has forced many people who live in subdivided flats to eat their dinner on pavements and in parks. They would rather eat in an eatery such as a dai pai dong than bring food back to their cramped living space.

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Looking back at the previous waves of infection highlights the injustice of further enforcing the dine-in ban. Before one such wave, community transmission had all but ended, and things were starting to return to normal, partly due to the strict restaurant rules. But the virus reappeared, brought in by people – including top businessmen and senior officials – who were exempt from mandatory quarantine imposed on most arrivals.

The government should focus on plugging loopholes in Covid-19 prevention measures to ease the pressure on restaurant owners. Chinese New Year is a hugely important period for restaurant finances. The ban should be lifted now to enable them to make back some of the money they’ve lost in the past year.

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