Bars and restaurants in Hong Kong are in more pain with the return of COVID restrictions


People dine at partitioned tables in a restaurant amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Hong Kong, China, Jan. 5, 2022. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu

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HONG KONG, Jan 7 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s bars, restaurants and caterers say tighter restrictions to stave off a new wave of COVID-19 infections are causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, threatening jobs and, for some, even theirs Could endanger survival.

The global financial center is one of the last holdouts in the world, sticking to its goal of stopping local transmission of the virus, adopting draconian and costly quarantine measures and largely isolating itself from the world.

But a streak of three months with no community cases in Hong Kong ended with the confirmation of the first local broadcast of the Omicron variant on December 31 – and the numbers have been rising since then – prompting authorities to reintroduce a number of restrictions on daily living .

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On Friday, 15 types of venues, including bars, clubs, gyms and beauty salons, were forced to close for at least two weeks. Restaurants can stay open until 6 p.m., but after that they are only allowed to offer take-away meals.

A manager at Sun Kong restaurant, which serves dim sum in a working-class neighborhood, said employees typically received double their salaries in the month leading up to the New Year holiday, which begins on February 1.

But not this year.

“We are happy about every salary this month,” said the manager, who only gave his last name, Chan.

Tommy Cheung, a restaurant and catering industry lawyer, estimates companies will lose up to HK $ 6 billion (US $ 770 million) in the next two weeks.

If the restrictions were extended into the holiday season, when restaurants and caterers are usually the busiest, their losses would be much greater, he said. For some, the uncertainty is unbearable.

“If they don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, the restaurants will close,” said Cheung.

Ben Leung, president of the Hong Kong Licensed Bar and Club Association, which represents about half of the city’s 1,400 bars, clubs and karaoke venues, estimates losses over the next two weeks at around HK $ 400 million.

While he doesn’t envisage closings, he says some of the 20,000 full-time jobs in the industry could be at risk unless the restrictions last much longer.

Economists at BofA Securities estimate that the restrictions could lower their forecast of 2.4% economic growth for the first quarter by 0.1-0.2 percentage points if the measures extend to Lunar New Year.

Jason Hui, who owns Yuet Nam Mak Min noodle restaurant, expects to lose up to 40% of his business, but doubts the sacrifice will make a big difference.

“It’s no use,” said Hui. “Is the virus only outside at night?”

($ 1 = 7.7999 Hong Kong dollars)

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Reporting by Edmond Ng and Donny Kwok; Letter from Marius Zaharia; Editing by Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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