Social Distancing Measures Tightened: Prohibition on Group Gatherings and Restrictions on Catering Businesses
The recent surge in the number of local COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong has led the Government to amend the Prevention and Control of Disease (Prohibition on Group Gathering) Regulation (Cap. 599G) and issue new directions under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Requirements and Directions) (Business and Premises) Regulation (Cap. 599F) to tighten social distancing measures.
Prohibition on Group Gatherings
The number of persons allowed in group gatherings in public places has been further restricted to two, as a result of the recent amendments to Cap. 599G. For the definition of "public place", please refer to our previous legal update "Overview of the Prohibition on Group Gatherings in Hong Kong":
The updated prohibition on group gatherings became effective on 29 July 2020 and will last for seven days until 4 August 2020. If the number of local infections remains high, it is likely to be extended.
Previously, when the pandemic situation appeared more under control, the Government extended the exemptions for certain group gatherings. These exemptions have been tightened now as well. For example, for shareholders’ meetings of a listed company or meetings of a body that must be held within a specified period, the number of persons allowed (on the condition that no food or drink is served during the meeting) in a room or partitioned area has been reduced from 50 to 20. Further, there is no longer any exemption for group gatherings during religious activities.
For a complete list of the exemptions, please refer to the following Annex 3 to the Government press release dated 14 July 2020:
The Secretary for Food and Health has issued directions for catering businesses and premises, subjecting them to a number of new restrictions, including the following :
- The number of customers allowed at any catering premises (when consumption at the premises is allowed) shall not be more than 50% of the normal seating capacity of the premises;
- Tables available for use or being used by customers within catering premises must be arranged in a way to ensure there is a distance of at least 1.5 metres or some form of partition to serve as an effective buffer between one table and another table at the premises; and
- The number of persons allowed to be seated together at one table on catering premises is limited to two.
More importantly, the directions provide that from 6:00 pm to 4:59 am of the subsequent day, any premises on which food or drink is sold or supplied for consumption on the premises must be closed. In other words, while take-out and food delivery services can still be maintained from 6:00 pm to 4:59 am the next day, no dine-in services can take place during this period of time. A notice must be put up at the entrance to any catering premises to remind customers that food or drink should not be consumed in areas adjacent to that catering premises during this period of time. The government also amended the relevant provisions of Cap. 599F such that the relevant responsible person for carrying on the catering business and the manager of the premises at which the food court is situated are required to close the seating area adjacent to the catering business during this period of time, including seats provided in a food court.
The exemptions to this restriction include catering businesses in hospitals or residential care homes. Further, the Chief Secretary for Administration has also granted exemptions to certain catering businesses, including staff canteens of MTR Corporation Limited and franchised bus companies. Nevertheless, they are still subject to the other restrictions which are applicable to other catering businesses as discussed above. For a list of the exempted catering businesses, please refer to the following Annex 2 to the government press release dated 27 July 2020:
The above restrictions are in force until 4 August 2020.
Bars, pubs and any part of a catering premises that is exclusively or mainly used for the sale or supply of intoxicating liquors for consumption in that part must also be closed. Live performance, dancing, all karaoke and mahjong-tin kau activities are not allowed in any catering premises. “Scheduled premises”, such as fitness centres, beauty parlours and karaoke establishments, must be closed, too.
For more details of the above regulations, please refer to the “Specification and Directions in Relation to Catering Business” and the “Directions in Relation to Scheduled Premises”, both issued on 30 July 2020: