Hong Kong, 11 February 2022: The latest and more stringent social distancing regulations which came into force yesterday (Thursday) have prompted some confusion among members of the public. Here is a quick guide designed to give clarity about what you must, and must not, do.
Group gatherings in public limited to two people
Any two persons together in a public space must keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres from other persons. This regulation applies to “organised” gatherings. For example, if you bump into friends and stop to talk, the rule comes into force. It does not include everyday activities among strangers such as queueing at a bus stop or waiting at a level crossing. Neither does it apply to riding on public transport. Further, it does not include meetings at work.
Families (that is, “persons ordinarily living in the same household”, according to the regulations) are exempted, but only when they gather among themselves. If, for example, a couple and their child go outside, they are exempt. However, if they meet their friend, the family counts as three people so the group gathering amounts to four. Extended families (that is, family members who live in different households) are not exempt.
Gatherings on private premises limited to two households
Effectively, you can invite people from one other household into your home. There is no limit on the number of people. A household is considered to be people living under the same roof. Domestic helpers count as part of the household. Allowance is made for carers who might ordinarily live elsewhere.
Health officials have said enforcement action will be taken only if rule-breakers are identified during Covid-19 contact-tracing, they will not be knocking on residents’ doors to check. It should also be noted that security guards at residential buildings do not have the legal power to deny entry. However, the rule is reasonably clear and the onus is on citizens to comply.
Restaurants and the “vaccine pass”
Starting from yesterday, so-called Type D restaurants are required to operate under the “vaccine pass” arrangement, meaning all customers must have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, while allowing a maximum of four persons per table.
Type B and C restaurants are limited to two customers per table and will be required to operate under the vaccine pass from 24 February, as will 23 other types of premises.
All restaurants must be closed to dine-in customers from 6:00pm to 4.59am the following day. The maximum numbers of customers for Types B, C and D restaurants are 50%, 75% and 100% capacity respectively.
Wearing a mask in public
It is worth repeating that smoking is not considered a “reasonable excuse” to remove your mask in public. Reasonable excuses do include eating or drinking, taking medication and maintaining personal hygiene, such as sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose. Masks must be worn at all times in public areas except country parks or when doing strenuous exercise. The regulations specifically state your mask must cover your nose and mouth.
Points to note
Citizens contravening the above regulations are liable for a fixed penalty fine of HK$5,000 although, in certain circumstances and depending on the seriousness of the offence, fines can be higher and punishment can even involve imprisonment.
As widely seen on social media in recent days, frontline police officers have stepped up action against people who break the public gathering limit and mask mandate, particularly in the latter case with regard to people caught smoking. It should be noted that more plain-clothes officers are involved in these operations. Also, you should be aware that CCTV footage can be used as evidence.