Hong Kong Unlikely to Ease Final Social Curbs After Bar Clusters

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(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong is unlikely to further ease social distancing curbs as planned in June due to a series of Covid clusters stemming from bars, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said, as the city pursues a gradual return to normalcy.

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The third round of easing would have expanded venue capacity and allowed live music in bars, but Lam said at a regular Tuesday press briefing that her government had to be “prudent.” Waiting to lift those measures would not be detrimental to people’s lives, she added, whereas a wider outbreak could endanger livelihoods.

“We are in a sort of stagnant situation with the number of positive tested cases staying at around 200 and 300 cases,” said Lam, who leaves her post at the end of June, when incoming leader John Lee takes office. “But there have already been 10 infection clusters in the community, including the recent two cases involving bars, so we have to take a very prudent approach.”

Hong Kong bars are currently restricted to 75% capacity and seating a maximum of four people per table until closing time at 2 a.m. Customers and staff are required to comply with the vaccine pass arrangement, which now mandates three doses.

Hong Kong has been charting a cautious path to normalcy, as it tries to revive its economy while not drifting too far from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Covid Zero strategy that strives to eliminate the virus. Mask-wearing is still mandatory across the city, even outside, and fully vaccinated inbound travelers must undergo seven-day hotel quarantines.

Lam also said at the news conference that national security and pandemic restrictions would apply to those marking the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, when asked to define the government’s “red lines” on the event.

Hong Kong was for decades the only place under Beijing’s control where people could openly discuss the event. In recent years, authorities have arrested and jailed organizers of the once-annual vigil for its victims and shut down a museum dedicated to the incident.

Estimates of the death toll range from hundreds to as many as 2,600 after Chinese Communist Party leaders sent troops into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and surrounding streets to violently clear protesters in 1989.

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