Health

Hong Kong bars, restaurants face more pain with return of COVID curbs

The global financial hub is one of the world’s last
holdouts sticking to a goal of stopping local transmission of the virus,
deploying draconian and costly quarantine measures and largely isolating itself
from the world.

But a streak of three months without community cases
in Hong Kong ended with the confirmation on Dec 31 of the first local
transmission of the omicron variant – and numbers have been ticking up since
then – prompting authorities to reinstate a raft of restrictions on daily life.

On Friday, 15 types of venues, including bars, clubs,
gyms and beauty parlours had to close for at least two weeks. Restaurants can
stay open until 6.00 pm but are only allowed to offer takeaway service after
that.

A manager at the Sun Kong restaurant, which serves dim
sum in a working-class neighbourhood, said staff usually got double their
salary in the month before the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on Feb 1.

But not this year.

“We’ll be happy to get any salary this
month,” said the manager, who only gave his last name of Chan.

Tommy Cheung, a legislator representing the restaurant
and catering industry, estimates businesses will lose up to HK$6 billion ($770
million) in the next two weeks.

If restrictions are extended into the holiday period,
when restaurants and caterers are usually most busy, their losses would be much
bigger, he said. For some, the uncertainty is unbearable.

“If they can’t see light at the end of the
tunnel, restaurants will close,” Cheung said.

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Ben Leung, president of the Hong Kong Licensed Bar and
Club Association, which represents about half of the city’s 1,400 or so bars,
clubs and karaoke venues, estimates losses of about HK$400 million in the next
two weeks.

While he does not foresee closures, unless the
restrictions last much longer, he says some of the 20,000 full-time jobs in the
industry may be at risk.

Economists at BofA Securities estimate the
restrictions could chop 0.1-0.2 percentage points off their first-quarter 2.4%
economic growth forecast if the measures extend into the Lunar New Year.

Jason Hui, who owns the Yuet Nam Mak Min noodle
restaurant, expects to lose up to 40% of his business but doubts the sacrifice
will make much difference.

“It’s no use,” Hui said. “Is the virus
only out at night?”

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