2nd April 2020 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong government published in the Gazette new directions today that any premises (commonly known as bar or pub) or any part of a catering business premise that is exclusively or mainly used for the sale or supply of intoxicating liquors as defined in section 53(1) of the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance (Cap. 109) (“intoxicating liquors”) for consumption in that premises must be closed for a period of 14 days.

However, the new directions do not cover restaurants which serve alcohol nor convenience stores which allow customers to sit, drink and eat at the tables inside.

In response, the spokesperson for Hong Kong Bar & Club Association strongly opposed to this unexpected government’s decision, questioning why only the bars and pubs are required to be closed and not restaurants in Hong Kong, and strongly urges the government to compensate the industry for its losses.

If the sole purpose of the government is to delay the spread of the virus among the local community members, perhaps the best solution is to close down even restaurants, hair, nail and beauty salons, massage parlours, as all these businesses offer services which involve physical contact with customers. The tools they use may not be sanitised after each usage. Most hairdressers do not sanitise their scissors and other tools immediately after each customer and the case is similar in beauty and nail salons.

Hairdressers do not sanitise their combs and scissors after each use.
Most tools used at nail salons are not sanitised after each use.
Even if massage parlours change the towels on the massage bed after each use, most of them do not sanitise the bed as the towels can fall off and customers will have physical contact with the surface of the bed.
Restaurants do not clean their seats and virus can travel more than 27ft easily within a confined space. The 1.5m distance between tables only offers psychological reassurance to diners that they are protected.
Toilet seats in all these business outlets won’t be sanitised after each use by a customer.
Customers continued to socialise at a bar and restaurant without wearing masks at a bar on Elgin Street at 10pm today.

At all these premises including restaurants, none would clean the seats or massage beds after each customer leaves as there is currently no regulation to require them to do so. An infected customer’s body fluid can stay on the surface of the seat and massage chair causing transmission of the virus if the next customer sits on it and accidentally wipes it into his/her eyes or other body parts. Not to mention, the toilets on the premises will also not be sanitised after each use by customers.

797th COVID-19 case announced today is a 33-year-old woman who works at New Beauty Salon in Causeway Bay. She developed fever on 25th March. She was wearing masking during beauty treatment but customers did not wear masks.  Centre for Health Protection confirmed yesterday the 756th case works at REENEX beauty parlour in TST who did beauty service for Case 504. Case 504 visited Reenex at 22nd floor of iSquare, 63 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui on 25th March. The employee who was doing treatment for her tested positive today (Case 756).

The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. MIT associate professor Lydia Bourouiba, who has researched the dynamics of coughs and sneezes for years, warns in newly published research that the current guidelines all over the world are based on outdated models from the 1930s. Rather than the assumed safety of 6 feet, Bourouiba warns that “pathogen-bearing droplets of all sizes can travel 23 to 27 feet.” The coronavirus can travel 27 feet and linger for hours. Bourouiba fears that the current guidelines are “overly simplified” and “may limit the effectiveness of the proposed interventions” against the deadly pandemic. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also said that it may be possible for a person to become infected by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes. “On copper and steel it’s pretty typical, it’s pretty much about two hours,” said CDC Director Dr Robert Redfield, referring to how long the new coronavirus may be active on those types of materials. “But I will say on other surfaces – cardboard or plastic – it’s longer, and so we are looking at this.”

Dr. Ho Pak-Leung from Center for Infection and Infectious Diseases, Hong Kong University also mentioned that recent US studies have indicated in a high humidity environment, if someone coughs, the droplets will sputter 30 metres per second, describing it as “the speed of a supercar”, calling on members of the public to be careful of the risks involved in dining and drinking at local F&B outlets. 

Therefore, the government’s direction to maintain 1.5m distance between the tables is rendered futile if the virus can travel far and linger in the air for hours. It merely offers psychological reassurance to diners that they are protected from any possible infection. As to the requirement of wearing masks in between drinks and meals, most customers still continue to ignore this rule as it is extremely inconvenient for them to put on the mask and remove it in between drinks and meals. Also, many asymptotical COVID-19 carriers can pass on the virus to others in an enclosed space as they can easily pass the body temperature test.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) has repetitively urged members of the public to go out less and avoid social activities such as meal gatherings or other gatherings and maintain an appropriate social distance with other people as far as possible. If the government is determined to substantially reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong, perhaps the most sensible thing to do now is to impose a blanket ban on all restaurants and allow only takeaways during certain hours (including dining in at convenience stores) and to close down all beauty parlours, nail salons, hair salons and massage parlours. If the total number of cases still maintain or increase after 2 weeks, the government should extend the ban until an improvement is seen. It is important to note that as there is no end to this pandemic in the near future, everyone must be prepared for a further lockdown and more new martial-law-style directions including ‘stay-at-home’ order if the need arises.

Meanwhile, the government should come up with more anti-epidemic relief measures to help all the affected industry players and employees.