Hong Kong will allow bars to stay open until 2am and more restaurant diners to sit at the same table under the latest easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the financial hub.
Bars will have extended later hours from May 19, when karaoke rooms and some other venues will also be allowed to reopen, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.
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Beaches and swimming pools will reopen to the public from Thursday, while restaurants will also be allowed to sit eight people at a table, up from four, Lam said at a regular news briefing.
Hong Kong reported 283 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, the first time the daily tally has dropped below 300 in nearly three months. The city has recorded more than 1.2 million infections and more than 9,300 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
“The COVID number has dropped to three digits in mid-April and didn’t rebound, despite foot traffic increasing during two holidays,” Lam said, adding that it was not right to prevent people from swimming during fine weather.
Lam said she hoped people would enjoy Mother’s Day on Sunday as more family members would be able to dine together.
Coronavirus restrictions have battered business in Hong Kong and helped increase a net outflow of about 70,000 people in February and March, up from nearly 17,000 in December.
For some, the easing of restrictions may be too late as many businesses in the food and beverage industry have had to lay off staff as they struggle to pay rent in one of the world’s most expensive property markets.
Life in the Chinese-ruled city is gradually returning to normal, with schools resuming face-to-face classes and many people back working from offices.
The city, however, still mandates seven days of hotel quarantine for all arrivals, making it one of a relative handful of metropolises outside China that still has major restrictions on travel.
Gary Ng, a senior economist at Natixis in Hong Kong, said the easing pandemic restrictions would help revive consumption but fall short of what is needed for a full economic recovery.
“The cost of stringent border control remains detrimental as it takes a heavy toll on Hong Kong’s competitiveness,” Ng told Al Jazeera.
“The negative impact is not only reflected in net people movement but also in external trade. In comparison, Hong Kong’s exports to mainland China fell by 16 percent year-on-year in March 2022, while Asian peers kept their momentum at 12 percent year-on-year. Therefore, Hong Kong needs to speed up its reopening of the external border before its competitors catch up. It is better late than never.”