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HK stops cross-family gatherings as part of new pandemic restrictions

08 February 2022

By Daisy CL Mandap


CE Lam says the time has come for HK to enforce tougher measures

Hong Kong has banned the private gatherings of more than two families as part of tough new measures aimed at stopping the surge in coronavirus infections within the city, which today experienced its second straight day of more than 600 new Covid-19 cases.

Under the tightened social distancing measures that take effect from Thursday, Feb. 10, gatherings in public places will also be capped again at two people, from the current four.

These were among the new anti-pandemic restrictions announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam after attending the Executive Council session today, Feb. 8, during which other tough new  measures were approved.

Under the vaccine bubble slated to start on Feb 24, only those with at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine can enter churches, shopping malls, supermarkets and markets, department stores as well as hair salons.

These were the venues added to the previous list of regulated premises in an amendment passed by Exco during its meeting.

Only those with at least one dose of a vaccine may enter malls from Feb 24

The use of the vaccine pass was originally meant to extend only to premises previously listed under Cap 599(F), including restaurants, bars, cinemas, swimming pools, cruise ships and other places of entertainment.

However, the plan to include public transportation in the list was dropped, apparently because of enforcement difficulties.

According to CE Lam, the use of the vaccine pass will be introduced sooner than Feb 24 in some venues, like restaurants, but did not give specifics.

The CE also said the penalty for failing to comply with compulsory testing notice will double, from $5,000 to $10,000.

She also mentioned some proposed amendments to the Labour Ordinance which the Executive Council has yet to endorse, like the firing of an employee who refuses to be vaccinated will not be regarded as unreasonable dismissal.

On the other hand, an employer may not dismiss an employee who is unable to report for work because of the need to comply with a compulsory testing notice, and should allow a worker who is under a lockdown order to file for sick leave.

Asked about the possible violation of privacy laws when requiring people to submit their vaccination records, the CE said: “I hope you realize that the time has come for the Hong Kong government to enforce new measures.”

She said other countries which pride themselves as defenders of human rights have been doing the same thing for a long time.

No door-to-door inspection of houses to enforce the cross-family ban, but..

Speaking at a later press briefing, Secretary for Food and Health Thomas Chan said the ban on cross-family gatherings may be relaxed a bit to allow a caregiver from a third household to make regular visits to an elderly person.

Chan also said there will be no surprise visits to any households for the purpose of enforcing the regulation. However, if a violation of this rule is detected when investigating a confirmed case, those responsible may be penalized or prosecuted.

“There will be no door-to-door enforcement, but if there were cases which show that people are flouting the rules, if we pick up those cases in contravention of Cap 599, enforcement action will be taken,” he said.

The same rule will apply for those required to present their vaccination certificate.

Chan said that in restaurants, there will be an active type of vaccine pass inspection where the customer will have to scan the LeaveHomeSafe app and produce their vaccination record.

But in venues where there is large foot traffic such as in malls and supermarkets, there will be passive enforcement, meaning people will only have to scan the LHS app before entering. However, enforcers will do random checks of vaccination records to ensure compliance.

It's back to 2-together when in public places

He said the law defines private premises as those which are not readily accessible to the public on a regular basis, like workplaces. He said the gathering of people for work purposes is exempted from the rules on social distancing.

The introduction of the vaccine pass rule will be enforced in phases. In the first phase, all residents aged 12 years and above (unless exempt for medical reasons) shall have at least one dose of a vaccine to enter regulated premises.

The second phase which will take effect at the end of April will require all those aged 18 and above to show proof of a second vaccination. Those aged 12-17 will be required to show they have taken the second dose if their first jab was given at least six months earlier.

For the third phase which takes effect at the end of June those aged 18 and above must show proof of a booster shot if they had taken their second dose at least six months earlier. Younger visitors will not be required to show a booster record as they have a 12-month waiting period between jabs.

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