12th April 2021 – (Hong Kong) The Chief Executive pointed out in a media conference today that restaurants can be opened till 2am in phases with relaxed conditions but the measures mentioned today will not take effect immediately but she said that the earliest implementation date maybe 29th April. During Stage 1, if all employees at catering premises have been vaccinated with single dose of COVID-19, maximum persons per table can be increased from the existing 4 to 6 and evening dine-in services can be extended to 12am from the existing 10pm. However, all customers must use “LeaveHomeSafe” app when entering catering premises and only the elderly can leave their written personal information. However, the maximum capacity per catering premises must be maintained at 50%.

The second stage will be implemented when all employees at catering premises who have been vaccinated with 2 doses of COVID-19 and all customers have received the first dose of vaccination, a ‘clean zone’ can therefore be established. The maximum persons per table can be increased from the existing 4 to 8 and evening dine-in services can be extended to 2am and the maximum capacity for banquet dinners can be increased to 100. The third stage is when all employees and customers are fully vaccinated with 2 doses. Persons per table can be increased from the existing 4 to 12. All other relaxation of measures in Stage 2 will also continue in Stage 3.

As far as the details on how individual types of premises will operate under this “vaccine bubble” concept, it will have to be worked out between the Government and the trade in the next few days. Lam would envisage that, for example, for a more sizeable restaurant, then they could delineate a certain area within their restaurant known as the “clean zone”. For customers who want to go into this area and enjoy eight -person table, then they have to be vaccinated, and the staff serving this area, this delineated area, have all to be vaccinated. It much depends on the configuration and the size of a particular restaurant. Some restaurants actually have two floors – then it’s quite easy for them to make this delineation.

Some catering industry players criticised the authorities because it is difficult for restaurants to force diners to get injections. Some labour unions are worried that some customers will be aggrieved because of this requirement and they criticised the authorities for shifting the burden to the restaurant employees. It is also impossible to force employees who have medical conditions to get vaccinated. Hence, if they are not vaccinated, they are still exposed to the risk of infection and does that mean that the restaurant needs to fire staff who do not get vaccinated? They urged the authorities to provide clear relevant guidelines. Furthermore, employees should have the freedom to choose whether to vaccinate or not. In addition, if serious side effects occur, they may not be compensated by insurance. This may also create a floodgate of claims against the employer if the insurance fails to compensate the employees.

In addition, most restaurants have been using partitions to allow customers of more than 6 to 12 to sit on the same table since the regulation was limited only to 2 per table. Many have evaded the law by placing partitions on the same table. Hence, the bait is not attractive enough to allow restaurants to accommodate more diners at one table via this vaccine bubble concept. The idea of “clean zone” is also not practical as many restaurants have small space except for banquet halls. Extending the evening dine-in services to 12am would not really help as most people have adjusted their dinner time to earlier and restaurants can’t really operate many table turnovers in the evening as kitchen usually closes before 10.30am and the extension of dine-in services to 12am and 2am would not increase their revenue further.

Meanwhile, the government must also open j; the COVID-19 vaccination priority group to those under 30 as this group is the one that frequents nightspots, karaoke and bars most often. The longer the government waits, the longer the listed premises will suffer. At present, the priority groups under the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme cover people aged between 30 and 59, students aged 16 or above studying outside Hong Kong and domestic helpers.