Hong Kong’s beleaguered bar trade has cried foul over what it calls the government’s double standards in fighting the
and warned of waves of closures if premises must remain shut even as social-distancing rules eased again.
Wing Chin Chun-wing, vice-president of the Hong Kong Bar & Club Association, on Tuesday called on the government to immediately relax the business ban on the city’s about 1,280 bars and pubs, saying most would be lucky to stay afloat for a month without reopening their doors.
“I believe many bars, especially the large ones, can only withstand the ban for one more month as they can’t keep on paying rent without getting any income,” he said.
Chin’s warning came as the government announced that from Friday, up to four people could gather in public, an increase from two currently, and entertainment venues such as game centres and mahjong parlours would be allowed to reopen but bars and pubs had to remain closed.
As Hong Kong battled a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government tightened social-distancing rules from July 15, including closing bars, pubs, clubhouses and any part of catering premises mainly used for the sale or supply of alcohol. It also banned evening dine-in services at restaurants from 6pm to 5am but has since relaxed the rule to 10pm.
But Chin accused the government of being unfair to his industry as the city’s bars and pubs had been closed on and off since April under different social-distancing phases.
“Why are restaurants allowed to open for business but bars and pubs have to close their doors for such a long time?” he asked.
“I don’t see any difference in our business operation. Many restaurants with a liquor licence also sell alcohol and customers take their masks off most of the time. Why has the government taken this discriminatory approach against us?”
He called on the government to provide another round of relief funds to help bars and pubs pay their rent for at least two months, saying the rental on space of about 1,000 sq ft cost more than HK$100,000 per month.
Chin said existing initiatives such as the HK$81 billion employment support scheme, which subsidises workers’ wages for six months, capped at HK$9,000 per month, did not take into account the third wave of infections.
Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said the government should lift the business ban on bars and pubs immediately and estimated that about 25 per cent of premises had already closed for good.
“The closure ban is a devastating blow to the bars and pubs which need to pay rent but cannot get any income,” he said, echoing Chin’s point about the perceived preferential treatment given to restaurants, whose operations were similar.
But Wong welcomed the relaxation of public gatherings to four people, saying it would help them to resume at least 75 per cent of business.
Restaurant takings dropped 26 per cent from HK$28.6 billion to HK$21.2 billion between April and June compared with the same period last year.
“It’ll be good news for the catering sector. For Chinese-style restaurants, they may not be able to provide banquet services but at least they can attract more customers who enjoy having early dim sum breakfasts with their families,” he said.
“I hope the government can further relax the operating hours until midnight and extend the number of people per table to six.”
Anthea Cheung So-may, director of the Lan Kwai Fong Association, said the nightlife hub had more than 100 bars and clubs employing over 2,000 staff who had been forced to take unpaid leave since July 15.
“Many bars and pubs can only stay closed for one more month otherwise they will be starved to death. They are really in deep water,” she said.
“Operators need to dip into their own savings or borrow from banks to get by. For staff, the dilemma is that they aren’t really unemployed so they can’t apply for welfare.”