21st February 2021 – (Hong Kong) After 2 months of ban on dine-in services during the evenings in restaurants, Hongkongers were relieved to enjoy to go out and dine in restaurants on 18th February after 6pm. Bookings for restaurants in Central have picked up in the last two days and many people were gathering to celebrate as if the epidemic were over.
Since 18th February 2021, party animals have been dancing away at popular nightspots such as Dragon-I and Cassio on Wyndham Street in Central. Customers started as early as 6pm so that they could drink and enjoy live DJ music for at least 4 hours before adjourning to some house parties after 10pm.
At 9pm yesterday, Dragon-I was crowded with customers who mostly did not wear masks. They were dancing in close proximity to each other. Hundreds were linked to a dance group cluster towards the end of last year and the government should have learned its lesson to prevent hybrid catering premises such as Dragon I and Cassio to operate as a dance club and bar under the disguise of a restaurant licence.
Hybrid clubs like Dragon-I operate using a restaurant licence as it offers lunches and dinners but most locals know that it is a must-visit party place when night falls. The loophole in licensing has allowed many customers to continue to drink and party even though bars, party rooms, night clubs and karaoke remain suspended. The bar industry has been crying foul as many operators have pleaded with the government to allow them to reopen as many are on the brink of bankruptcy. Roden Wong of the Licensed Bar and Club Association expressed earlier that more than 60% of the licensed bars may close down soon if the suspension is not lifted. Bars have been closed since 26th November last year.
On one hand, the Hong Kong government has been relentlessly carrying out ambush lockdowns at residential areas before Lunar New Year which sparked an outcry amongst residents, on the other hand, it is also trying to appease business owners by allowing listed premises to reoperate and evening dine-in services to be extended to 10pm. Although a balance needs to be struck, the loophole in restaurant licensing will risk a rebound in COVID-19 cases simply because the so-called ‘restaurants’ such as Dragon-I are allowed to operate as a dance club oblivious to the gathering ban.
Venues like cinemas, fitness centres and arcade game centres are allowed to reopen but bars, night clubs, karaoke and party rooms are singled out as they are considered ‘high risk’. Meanwhile, isn’t a dance club with a restaurant licence like Dragon-I where customers dance without masks considered high risk?
Cat Hou, the chairperson of the Bartenders and Mixologists Union said blantly that suspending bars alone will not contain the virus. In fact, there are many unlicensed bars and party rooms that still continue to operate illegally every day. Affected by the anti-epidemic suspension measures, at least 20% of the bars have closed down permanently. Many bartenders are taking unpaid leave and the salaries of around 30% of them have been reduced.
During the Lunar New Year, 70 bars have closed down accounting for 5% of all bars in Hong Kong. Together with the last wave of closings, a total of 210 bars have shut down, accounting for 15% of all bars in Hong Kong. The spokesperson for Hong Kong Bar & Club Association also condemned the government for its double standard in allowing bars with restaurant licence to operate.
It is high time for the government to pluck this loophole in restaurant licensing to do justice to bars and nightclubs which are suspended. In all fairness to other bar and night club operators, no drinking (except during dining) or dancing should be allowed to prevent the next wave of epidemic in Hong Kong if we are in this together.