Hong Kong reopens venues, extends dining hours as Covid-19 cases fall

Hong Kong reopens venues, extends dining hours as Covid-19 cases fall
]A group of women practice a choreography in front of the Victoria harbour front in Hong Kong, China, 21 April 2022. Hong Kong eased social distancing measures for selected businesses, with museums, gyms, beauty salons, cinemas and places of worship among premises resuming business. EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE

HONG KONG, April 21 (Reuters) - Hong Kong reopened gyms, beauty parlours, theme parks and cinemas on Thursday for the first time in more than four months, as authorities relaxed some of the world's toughest COVID-19 curbs, which have weighed on people and businesses.

Some in the global financial hub flocked to salons and massage parlours, while others visited temples and churches which had also been shut. Many schools have also resumed in-person learning after months of online instruction.

“Everyone has things to do and be able to make money,” said Idy Lee, 44, the owner of a nail salon in the bustling Mong Kok district. “It’s excellent and people can come out for activities again. Everyone is happy.”

Many restaurants were booked out for weeks ahead after the hours for dining out were extended until 10 p.m. (1400 GMT) from 6 p.m., while group sizes have been expanded to four from two.

As Hong Kong eased its measures, authorities in China’s commercial capital of Shanghai said they would retain tough curbs.

The easing comes as the number of daily COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong have dropped below 1,000 for the past six days, from a peak of more than 70,000 on March 3.

Health authorities reported 628 new cases on Thursday, however, and urged vigilance against any rebound in infections.

Though the relaxation brought relief for many, scores of businesses have closed and tens of thousands of people have fled Hong Kong as authorities re-imposed in January measures first adopted in 2020.

The city has grappled to impose a “dynamic zero” COVID policy similar to mainland China, which aims to quash all outbreaks, as opposed to living with the virus, a strategy that many countries have followed.

Its borders have effectively been sealed since 2020, with few flights landing and fewer transit passengers permitted, denting Hong Kong’s reputation as a global hub.

Swimming pools and beaches remain shut, frustrating many athletes, while bars, nightclubs and saunas are still closed, with many of them battling to stay afloat, and others on borrowed time.

“The reopening of gyms is a happy thing, but I hope the government will give us some subsidies because we have been closed on and off for a year-and-a-half, and lost a lot of customers,” said Parker Chan, 25, a coach at Fitness Formula.

While densely-packed Hong Kong held COVID-19 at bay for much of 2021, a surge of the highly contagious Omicron variant brought the former British colony to its knees in February, swamping its world-class medical system.

Its tally of infections is more than 1.1 million, with 8,973 deaths.

(Reporting by Joyce Zhou and Aleksander Solum; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Clarence Fernandez)


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