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Hong Kong to ban liquor sales at bars and restrict visitor arrivals

As coronavirus cases spike, government will prohibit most foreign tourists

Multiple coronavirus cases in Hong Kong over the past week involved people who had been to Lan Kwai Fong, a popular nightlife district.   © AFP/Jiji

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong will ban restaurants and bars from selling alcohol, and most foreign visitors -- including transit passengers -- will be barred entry as part of the government's latest measures to contain the second coronavirus wave following a recent surge in imported infections.

The sale of alcohol will be prohibited at the city's roughly 8,600 licensed liquor premises after multiple coronavirus cases in the past week involved visitors to Lan Kwai Fong, a popular nightlife hub in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government would amend the law to enforce the alcohol ban, but she did not give a targeted effective date.

Meanwhile, nonresidents will be barred from entering the territory for 14 days starting at midnight on Tuesday. Arrivals from mainland China, Macao and Taiwan will be put under a 14-day mandatory quarantine at home with their whereabouts monitored by a tracking wristband.

"People tend to have intimate contact when consuming liquor, as it's considered a high-risk activity," Lam said at a news conference on Monday. She also called for private recreation facilities, including gyms, to be closed, stressing that maintaining social distancing is key to preventing community outbreak.

Lam added that the government is "considering different means" to support the food and beverage industry, which has been hit hard by the prolonged anti-government protests and the coronavirus outbreak.

Separately, the government on Monday announced a 1 billion Hong Kong-dollar ($128.9 billion) package of relief measures for the aviation industry "in view of the sustained challenges the industry has to face due to the outbreak of COVID-19," referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The number of coronavirus infections in Hong Kong jumped from 158 to 356 in just one week, the government said on Monday, as citizens living overseas have been rushing home in part to beat tighter border controls. About two-thirds of the new cases reported last week were people arriving from abroad.

Authorities also are stepping up health screenings at the international airport. All arrivals from Europe and the U.S. -- where COVID-19 is now rapidly spreading -- are required to submit saliva samples for testing, stricter procedures from the previous policy where only people showing upper respiratory infection symptoms need to be tested.

Harsher punishment will also be imposed on those who violate quarantine requirements. Those who breach quarantine are subject to six months' imprisonment and fines of up to HK$25,000 ($3,220). As of Sunday, 36 people were found to have left their quarantine dwellings without permission.

The police have placed them on the wanted list and will continue to search for them, according to the government, adding that law enforcement agencies have been conducting spot checks on suspected offenders with the aid of electronic monitoring systems.

At Monday's news conference, Lam said a hotline would be set up for the public to report on quarantine violations.

"Our medical workers have been working so hard to battle the virus over the past two months," she said. "If someone intentionally breached quarantine and triggered a community outbreak, how could they redeem our doctors and nurses?"

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