Hong Kong stated on Thursday that it will relax some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 regulations, allowing beauty salons, theatres, and gyms to operate from April 21 as infections in the global financial capital remain below 2,000 per day.
Since early this year, the Chinese-ruled city has been afflicted by a fifth wave of coronavirus, which has wreaked havoc on businesses and resulted in more than 8,600 deaths, many of them in the last two months, though incidences have decreased in recent days.
Coronavirus restrictions have hurt businesses and contributed to a net exodus of 70,000 individuals in February and March, up from almost 17,000 in December, increasing concerns about the city’s reputation as a global financial centre.
The government announced on Thursday that starting April 21, up to four individuals can congregate at any time, up from two now, and restaurants can stay open until 10 p.m., expanding dining hours across the city from 6 p.m. Face-to-face classes are set to resume next week in schools.
Bars, beaches, and barbeque grilling areas are all still closed.
“Cases have plummeted from a height of over 70,000 a day to over 1,000 today; if the government does not loosen (the limitations), I believe it would have a significant impact on Hong Kong’s society and economy,” said Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a press conference.
For the past week, the number of daily infections in Hong Kong has been below 2,000, with 1,272 cases registered on Wednesday.
Since 2020, Hong Kong’s border has been essentially closed, with few flights able to land and few passengers permitted to transit, thus isolating a city that had earned a reputation as a global hub.
Many restaurants have had to lay off personnel as they struggle to pay rent in one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets, so the relaxations may be too late for some enterprises.
Until this year, Hong Kong had been significantly more successful than many other cities of its size in controlling the coronavirus, but the new wave of infections has overwhelmed the city’s world-class medical system, and public trust in the city administration has reached an all-time low.