HONG KONG: Hong Kong authorities on Thursday (Jul 30) backtracked on a decision to ban all restaurant dining, noting that it brought "inconvenience and difficulties" to many workers.
From Friday, eateries will be able to resume dine-in services for breakfast and lunch, provided they operate at 50 per cent capacity and ensure diners sit two to a table, with a 1.5m spacing between each table.
Dining-in will only be allowed from 5am to 5.59pm, according to the authorities. In the evenings, eateries must stick to only serving takeaway meals.
The restaurant dining ban, which was announced on Monday and took effect on Wednesday, had barred any outlet from allowing dine-in patrons, an unprecedented move in the financial hub where hundreds of thousands depend on eating out for daily meals.
The ban was followed by a wave of widespread public anger, and restaurant groups with links to influential pro-Beijing parties also voiced dismay at the measures, which had been urged by epidemiologists to slow COVID-19 infections amid a spike in new cases.
Other restrictions announced on Monday included a ban on gatherings of more than two people and mandatory face masks in all public places.
EATING IN STOREROOMS, TOILETS
Following the ban, construction and office workers were seen across the city trying to find shade as they ate their noodle and rice lunch boxes in temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius.
Social media was quickly swamped by photos of primarily blue-collar workers forced to eat on pavements and parks - and even inside public toilets to escape a torrential downpour.
Hong Kong authorities have since opened 19 community centres for residents and workers to have their meals.
Ivan Tong, a 24-year-old engineer who was buying his takeaway lunch in the commercial district of Tsim Sha Tsui, said many industries did not have an office where workers could eat and some companies did not allow dining inside, making the restaurant dining ban very tough.
"Although these measures aim to lower the number of confirmed cases, it may be more dangerous as people are outside longer," Tong said.
In response to the ban, private businesses as varied as hairdresser salons and bus companies as well as churches provided space for the public to eat in.
One salon, Hair La Forme, posted on Facebook that it would provide water, napkins and air-conditioned toilets for free.
"Every time someone eats a meal it will be fully disinfected," it said above a photograph showing individual customer booths with leather seats and wide mirrors.
Hong Kong had been a poster child for tackling the coronavirus, with local transmissions all but ended by early summer.
But the virus has returned in recent weeks, brought in by tens of thousands of people who were exempt from a mandatory quarantine imposed on most arrivals.
They included international ship and airline crews, as well as top businessmen and senior officials travelling to mainland China.
Hong Kong reported 149 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a daily record. The new infections include 145 that were locally transmitted.
More than 1,500 new infections have been detected since the start of July - half the total since the virus first hit the city in late January.