Workers returned to Hong Kong’s restaurants on Friday after the government reversed its ban on eating in, but catering industry representatives said the policy flip had made things harder.
Blue-collar workers could not wait to return to air-conditioned eateries, a day after the government bowed to public pressure as workers were left eating lunch at parks, construction sites and by the road under oppressive heat and heavy rain.
Many restaurants were caught off guard and remained closed on Friday, with the ban being lifted 48 hours after coming into effect.
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On Lockhart Road in Causeway Bay, Chinese dim sum restaurant Sun Sun, which has been shut since July 29 because of the tightened social-distancing rules, did not reopen, while nearby, on Tang Lung Street, five out of a dozen restaurants remained closed.
Lai, a construction worker in his 60s, went to a Causeway Bay restaurant he often visits opposite the building site, at 11.30am. He said he felt good being able to enjoy his lunch break indoors.
“Finally I can eat my lunch inside the restaurant, instead of having it outside in the open air,” he said. “I feel safe and secure this way.”
He said dining in restaurants should be allowed, as long as they were not crowded and there were partitions to protect diners. Lai had eaten takeaway food at the construction site on Wednesday and Thursday.
I felt safer eating in restaurants where they take diners’ temperatures and provide hand sanitisers
Yuen Chi-fai, construction worker
“It was inconvenient and dirty to eat there, which I think puts us at higher risk of infection,” he said.
Restaurants can serve customers inside for breakfast and lunch, with two people per table, but can only operate at 50 per cent capacity, and are limited to takeaways only between 6pm and 5am.
At around 12.30pm, A Plus Kitchen on Gloucester Road had half of its 60 seats occupied, with about six people waiting outside.
Construction worker Yuen Chi-fai, 40, had his lunch with a colleague at the cha chaan teng, and welcomed the return of service.
He said he normally ate in restaurants during his one-hour lunch break, and compared to eating outside, he added that eating indoors was cleaner and safer during the pandemic.
“During lunchtime the previous two days, there were so many people eating outside in parks and on streets, and we did not know who may have the virus. That’s more risky,” he said.
“I felt safer eating in restaurants where they take diners’ temperatures and provide hand sanitisers.”
Meanwhile, several catering sector figures vented their dissatisfaction with the government’s constantly changing coronavirus measures for restaurants on social media.
Simon Wong Kit-lung, who runs more than 30 Japanese and Chinese restaurants, said establishments were only making about 20 to 30 per cent of their normal revenues, even with customers eating in during the day. He said current revenues were barely enough to cover wages and rent.
“The entire catering industry continues to dangle by a thread, and we can only hang on for a few more days,” Wong wrote on a Facebook page.
Lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who represents the embattled sector, said the industry needed a government subsidy to keep businesses afloat and pay worker’s wages.
Hong Kong has implemented its strictest measures to battle a third wave of coronavirus infections, including capping public gatherings to no more than two people, except for families, and requiring the wearing of masks in all public areas. The measures are expected to last until next Tuesday.
On Friday morning, two elderly Covid-19 patients died, bringing the total number of deaths to 27.
Officials confirmed another 121 coronavirus cases later in the day, the tenth straight day of triple-digit increases, pushing the city’s tally to 3,272.
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