On Monday, 23 March 2020, Chief Executive Carrie Lam stated her plan to temporarily ban all the city’s restaurants, bars and nightclubs from selling alcohol. She qualified the unexpected measure by explaining, “Sometimes people get a bit intimate when they’re drunk, and this will raise the risk of cross infection.”

The press briefing came on the back of a surge of 11 COVID-19 cases that have been linked to the buzzing nightlife area of Lan Kwai Fong in Central.

As well as the proposed alcohol-sales ban, dining out in the company of others has now been labelled by the health authorities as a high-risk activity. This comes as yet another blow for the already hard-hit F&B industry.

The liquor ban does not yet have an enforcement date, and no measures to aid the businesses that rely on the sale of alcoholic drinks have been proposed.

A petition by the Hong Kong Small and Medium Restaurant Federation has been circulated, stating strong opposition to the ban if there’s no financial assistance to the venues in order to cover rent and staff costs.

The petition is due to be submitted today and calls for the following actions:

  • Specific dates and times of when the ban will take effect and details of the drafting of the legislation. How long would the ban last? Is it a set number of days? Will it be assessed?
  • The ban must come with rent concessions along with compensation to cover the salaries of workers affected
  • Impose a complete closure of all types of restaurants instead of banning the sale of alcohol alone and come with total rent concessions along with compensation to cover the salaries of workers affected
  • The government’s efforts should instead be focused on enhancing supervision of returnees to Hong Kong who are now quarantined at home, as well as further restrictions on people crossing the borders, which should be limited to only Hong Kong residents after health screenings
  • The government should carry out extra sanitising measures to prevent a community outbreak of COVID-19 and further help the industry to get through this pandemic

Another petition calls for wider support within the industry, including:

  • Immediate support with emergency unemployment benefits to all hourly and salaried workers who have been furloughed during this crisis
  • Temporarily suspend the need for MPF contributions from both employees and employers – both employees and employers desperately need those funds now
  • Call for all Hong Kong landlords to offer their hospitality business tenants a 40% reduction in rental fees until such time as COVID-19 is no longer an international emergency. Landlords should be subsidised by the Hong Kong government accordingly
  • Call for all Hong Kong landlords to guarantee their hospitality business tenants that they will not suffer rental increases for any leases that are due for renewal in 2020 or 2021. From our previous SARS experience, it took more than 18 months for the hospitality sector to recover from the impact of SARS on businesses
  • Personal salaries tax and company tax to be reduced by 50% for the entire duration of the COVID-19 pandemic period, i.e., commencing from 1 January 2020 until such time as the virus is no longer an international emergency.

Some other bars, like newcomer The Diplomat in Central, are focusing on their food menu instead of alcoholic drinks when possible. Food options at this cocktail bar by award-winning mixologist John Nugent include classic American-style sandwiches like the Reuben and Cubano, plus the infamous Diplomat burger and Nugent’s nuggets – also available for takeaway and delivery. In addition, walk-ins at The Diplomat are no longer allowed, with mandatory advance booking and limited seating in place.

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