8th February 2022 – (Hong Kong) Dr.Chuang Shuk-kwan from Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, announced at 4.45pm today (8th) that there were 625 new confirmed cases in Hong Kong. 15 of the cases were of Delta variant while the other cases involved Omicron variants. It was found that at least 19 large cluster outbreaks involving cross-family gatherings with around 10 people or more. They attended inners with relatives and friends. The virus also spread among work places and buildings. The cluster outbreak with the largest number of people reached 47, and a total of 367 people were infected. As of yesterday (8th), there were 898 local cases with unknown sources and they were mainly found in Sha Tin, Sham Shui Po, Kwai Tsing, and Kowloon City.

In order to reduce gatherings at home, the government has imposed a ban on cross-household gatherings of more than two families, even in private premises. However, there was no mention of the total number of people allowed to gather at one time and what about visiting friends? The fine for violating Cap 599 will also be increased from HK$5,000 to HK$10,000. Many home gatherings have been organised since the ban on evening dine-in services was introduced last month as citizens had no where to dine after 6pm during Lunar New Year.

Under the new measure, households will be divided into units. If the children have moved out and no longer live with their parents, they will become an independent unit. Only two households can gather at most, that is, if the brother and sister have moved to separate residences, they cannot go home to visit their parents at the same time, they must go there in turn, and three people from different residences cannot gather at the same time. Similar measure will apply if a household invite friends over for dinner or gathering. It seems like only friends from another household are allowed to gather at the same time.

However, it is unsure how enforcement can take place in private premises as officers will not be able to conduct checks regularly. Many walk-up apartments and tenement blocks in Hong Kong do not even have a concierge or security guard at the entrance. When asked about enforcement actions or if officers will be empowered to enter homes to prosecute offenders, the Chief Executive said health officials will provide further details. 

In fact, according to the authorities, there will be no active law enforcement and there will be no door-to-door inspection as there is no provision in the legislation to allow law enforcement officers to enter any private premises. However, if cases are traced in the future and it is found that someone violated the restrictions on cross-household gatherings, resulting in cluster outbreaks, the law will be enforced. The new restriction is not meant to be a pre-emptive measure adopted by the government. Permanent Secretary for Health at Food and Health Bureau, Thomas Chan confirmed today that the authorities would only take action if a violation eventually leads to a cluster outbreak.

In U.K., no more than 30 people can meet in a private home and stay overnight. Regulations remain in place that prevent gatherings/ parties of more than 30 people in domestic settings. The coronavirus regulations also prohibit the playing of amplified music at night, in a house gathering more than 30 people, which is likely to cause serious distress to neighbours.

30 people are a lot as most Hong Kong apartments are very small. The government should perhaps specify the total number of visitors allowed per day, entrust property management companies/security guards with the power to report to authorities and create a special hotline for citizens to report if they suspect that their neighbours are organising a house party involving the maximum number allowed. House gatherings pose a higher risk than crowd gathering in a shopping mall. People do not wear masks in private homes. Many COVID-19 cases were found in residential buildings as evident in the daily compulsory testing notice issued. Hence, the government should focus more on pre-emptive measure and limit the total number of visitors per household per day and accept up to X amount of visitors a day with a cap of 1 distinct gathering a day just like in Singapore. Even if the government does not intend to carry out enforcement, it should at least specify a gathering cap and maximum number of visitors per day.

In Singapore, social gatherings of up to 5 people are allowed in public areas, and households may accept up to 5 visitors a day. A cap of 1 distinct gathering a day applies for both public gatherings and household visits. It is critical that the Hong Kong government specify the actual number of visitors allowed as exponential growth in cluster outbreaks resulting from gathering at homes will become more severe.

In addition, the affluent ones continue to organise parties on private yachts as the anti-epidemic regulations do not seem to cover their vessels.