To further combat the spread of COVID-19 in Hong Kong, the government recently enacted the Prevention and Control of Disease (Prohibition on Group Gathering) Regulation (Cap. 599G) (“the Regulation”).
Under section 3 of the Regulation, a group gathering of more than four people in any public place during a specified period is prohibited. Initially, the specified period was from 29 March 2020 to 11 April 2020. The specific period was subsequently extended by the Secretary for Food and Health to 23 April 2020 and may be further extended depending on the public health situation in Hong Kong.
Public place is defined in the Regulation as “a place to which the public or a section of the public may or are permitted to have access from time to time, whether by payment or otherwise”.
The definition of public place is broad. Even for private properties, if members of the public or some members of the public are allowed access from time to time, such private premises may fall under the definition of a public place, thereby triggering the prohibition on group gatherings under the Regulation.
Institutions with private premises which are accessible by the public or members of the public need to be very careful about the Regulation. Any person who participates in a prohibited group gathering, organises a prohibited group gathering, or owns / controls/ operates the place of the prohibited group gathering and knowingly allows the taking place of the prohibited group gathering commits an offence.
There are 12 exemptions to the prohibition on group gatherings and they are listed out in Schedule 1 to the Regulation. For example, companies and organizations which require employees to attend a workplace for their daily operations can rely on the exemption for group gatherings “at a place of work for the purposes of work”.
Group gatherings for performing governmental functions, or any function of a statutory body or an advisory body of the Government are also exempted.
Further, group gatherings for receiving hospital or healthcare service at a healthcare facility are exempted. The normal operations of hospitals and clinics are thus not affected by the Regulation.
Other exemptions include group gatherings for the purposes of transportation, group gatherings at meetings of a body that must be held within a specified period in order to comply with any ordinance or other regulatory instrument that governs the operation of the body or its business and group gatherings held for imparting information or skills, or handling supplies or items, that are conducive to the prevention and control of the specified disease.
For a complete list of the 12 exemptions, please refer to the following government press release: