Coronavirus News Asia

HK government defends ban relaxation plan

The Hong Kong government said its plan to relax the city’s social-distancing rules was not influenced by political considerations.

On Tuesday, the government said the maximum number of people permitted to attend public gatherings will be increased to 50 from eight after the current restriction is due to expire on Thursday evening. However, there will no longer be a limit on the number of people permitted to attend gatherings held indoors. A ban on live performances and dancing in bars will also be lifted.

As the extension of the gathering ban will cover July 1, the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China, Civil Human Rights Front, an organizer of the annual march on that day, criticized the government for maintaining the social-distancing rules so that the police would have an excuse to ban the annual pro-democracy march on July 1. It said in a Facebook post that it appeared that de facto martial law had been imposed in Hong Kong.

Since March 29, police have been handing out HK$2,000 (US$256) penalty tickets to people they have accused of violating the anti-epidemic rules. Some pro-democracy protesters have complained that the police had misused the rule to penalize them. Police also banned many protests, including the annual candlelight vigil on June 4, for public health reasons.

On June 4, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China defied the police ban on the June 4 vigil and called on its supporters to gather at Victoria Park and other areas. Most participants observed the social-distancing rules and wore masks.

Police did not disrupt the event at Victoria Park but later arrested several key members of the Alliance for inciting other people to take part in an “illegal assembly.”

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said there was no political motive behind the continuation of the gathering ban. She said the decision was made with public health considerations in mind.

Chan said it is difficult to ensure that people maintain a social distance and wear masks during public gatherings.

Chan also said the Hong Kong, Macau and the Guangdong governments are developing a health code system that will allow people to travel between the three locales without being quarantined for 14 days.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a media briefing on Tuesday morning that the city must remain vigilant against the coronavirus.

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