Week’s grace for staff tests amid booking queues

Restaurants and fitness and entertainment venues have been given a week’s grace to get staff tested for Covid-19 as they gear up to reopen tomorrow.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee announced the move yesterday after long queues formed at community testing centers over the Lunar New Year holiday.

Chan said test services are also being ramped up, including increasing the number of deep-throat saliva sampling packs distributed daily to 50,000 from 40,000 and the daily booking quota for the 19 test centers to 26,000.

Operators of restaurants and other designated premises were told by Chan last week that staff had to test negative for the coronavirus by tomorrow for extending dine-in times or reopening, but then came yesterday’s announcement that workers had until next Thursday.

Businesses allowed to reopen include indoor and outdoor fitness venues, beauty and massage parlors, entertainment venues such as theme parks, cinemas and museums, plus game centers, and snooker and bowling clubs.

Citing the queues, Chan said: “We want to give [employees] sufficient time to get tested. The relaxation involves a large number of employees from different sectors.”

Chan said several parameters including daily cases remaining at a relatively low level indicated the fourth wave that hit in November has eased.

Reopenings involve “not just economic activities but also people’s livelihoods,” she stressed.

Apart from extending restaurant dine-in times to 10pm, eateries can allow four people to share a table rather than two.

Chan reiterated two new conditions: staff taking tests every 14 days and patrons using the LeaveHomeSafe app.

Alternatively, patrons can provide contact information upon entering a restaurant, which must keep such records for 31 days.

Restaurants that fail to comply with the regulations will be suspended from offering dine-in services after 6pm and return to two people per table for three, seven or 14 days, depending on the risks caused by violations.

Meanwhile, bath houses, party rooms, nightclubs, karaoke lounges, mahjong clubs and swimming pools remain closed.

The two-person social gathering cap will be extended to March 3, but Chan said if the epidemic remains stable she will seek approval from the Executive Council to relax the cap to four as soon as possible.

Some hotels said their buffets are fully booked tomorrow or through to the weekend.

Move toward easing continued as Hong Kong saw only eight new cases yesterday.

Six were local infections and two were imported. Of the local infections three had unknown sources.

The day’s case count took Hong Kong’s tally to 10,797, with 194 deaths. One of the unknown-source cases is a senior fireman, 53, from the Kwai Chung Fire Station. And a colleague at the station yesterday tested as preliminary positive for the coronavirus.

More than 70 fire officers working at the station between February 1 and last Sunday have been sent into quarantine.

Another case involves an eight-year-old girl living in Shek Yi House at Kwai Chung’s Shek Lei 2 Estate, who was asymptomatic. She took the test on Sunday, after her building was added to the mandatory test list.

Also infected was a housewife, 39, who developed symptoms on February 9 and submitted saliva samples on Sunday. She lives in Fung Chuen Court in Diamond Hill. Residents of her building are now subject to mandatory tests.

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