Some 70 bars across Hong Kong are to close for good after the Lunar New Year holiday, as tough social-distancing rules gutted the city’s once-bustling nightlife scene, according to an industry poll.
The Hong Kong Bar & Club Association said the city was experiencing a second wave of business closures, as bars and nightclubs had not been able to open for nearly 200 days since the coronavirus pandemic hit the city.
A poll released by the association on Sunday found that 70 bars had plans to shut down after the traditional holiday, on top of about 140 establishments that closed last year. The industry group estimates about 210 out of about 1,400 licensed bars, or 15 per cent of venues, have cumulatively closed down.
Wing Chin Chun-wing, the association’s vice-president, said the industry had “fallen into a deep abyss” as revenues dropped to zero for months because of the government-imposed closures.
“The nightlife industry should not be the one footing the bill for the entire pandemic,” Chin said, adding it was unfair that bars were always among the first to be ordered to shut and often among the last allowed to reopen.
Chin said it would need another round of government subsidies, totalling about HK$500,000 (US$64,500) per establishment, to rescue premises amid the prolonged closures.
Anthea Cheung So-may, director of the Lan Kwai Fong Association, also called on the government to offer much-needed help to the stricken industry to avoid more closures.
Warning that hundreds more bars could close without support, Cheung said her association expected Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po to “provide urgent financial assistance for our industry” in his budget on Wednesday.
Last Thursday, Hong Kong relaxed some of the tough social-distancing rules imposed in late November when the city faced a fourth wave of coronavirus cases.
Catering establishments are allowed to serve dine-in customers until 10pm while each table is capped at four people, up from two. However, bars, nightclubs, karaoke lounges and party rooms have to remain closed.
Separately, police said a 29-year-old woman in charge of a business on Wyndham Street was arrested on Saturday evening for operating with an expired liquor licence, and violating social-distancing rules.
Officers seized some 300 bottles of alcohol worth a total of HK$100,000, and learned the venue’s licence had expired on January 7.
The force also said 47 people – 21 men and 26 women – were issued fixed penalty notices of HK$5,000 for violating the limit on social gatherings, including a person who broke the law on smoking indoors.
Ben Leung Lap-yan, charter president of the Licensed Bar and Club Association of Hong Kong, said it was unusual to penalise so many customers in one go.
“Many bars and nightclubs still haven’t received parts of their subsidies they applied for since last year in earlier rounds of the anti-epidemic relief fund, which is why they’re only staying open to receive the full disbursement before officially closing down,” Leung said.
Leung believed the bar that had been punished had been desperate, and took a “gamble on the risks” just to make some money.
Roden Wong Chu-yin, vice-president of the Licensed Bar and Club Association, said catering venues would do their best to follow the social-distancing rules so business could return to normal.
“I’m sure most of our peers [in the food and drinks industry] are aware that Covid-19 is still there and won’t go against the restrictions and put their staff, customers and licences at risk and get fined,” Wong said.
“However, there will always be some ‘bad eggs’ within the community that we can’t control and we totally understand it’s because of the financial pressure coming from landlords, staff salary and delays in government subsidy [and so on], every extra business hour is so precious nowadays.”
Since rules were relaxed last week, at least two catering establishments had been found to have violated them and had to suspend operations for 14 days, according to data from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
Police also arrested a 24-year-old woman in charge of operating a party room on Saturday night despite being one of the scheduled premises required to stay shut. Nine men, aged between 16 and 28, were also issued fixed penalties for violating social-distancing regulations at the venue located in an industrial building on Hung To Road in Kwun Tong.