- The decision came after five new Covid-19 cases were confirmed from a karaoke venue on Monday, and is seen by many as closing a loophole
- Meanwhile, a one-month-old baby becomes the city’s youngest resident to test preliminarily positive
Hong Kong's karaoke lounges and mahjong parlours will join other public venues in being shuttered for 14 days after a small new coronavirus outbreak was identified at a lounge in Tsim Sha Tsui, sources close to the government said.
The decision was made in a special Executive Council meeting on Wednesday morning.
"Many (Exco) members have told the government for a long time to take action in banning more entertainment areas where people might gather. The confirmed cases in a karaoke lounge on Monday proved we cannot wait," an Exco member told the Post.
The decision is expected to be announced this afternoon.
The closure came as a one-month old baby boy tested positive for the new coronavirus in a preliminary test, potentially becoming the youngest Covid-19 patient in the city.
A medical source told the Post that the baby was now being treated at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The child's parents have not shown symptoms, but the baby had contacts with a friend of his parents earlier, who eventually became a confirmed case, the source added.
A 16-month-old infant also contracted the virus on March 13.
Hong Kong's tally of Covid-19 cases stood at 714 on Wednesday morning, with the latest batch of infections including five people who visited a karaoke lounge last week.
The fresh cluster exposed a loophole in the government's social distancing policy, under which six types of leisure venues " including cinemas, party rooms and gyms " were ordered to close down on Saturday for 14 days to curb the spread of the virus.
I think singing in karaoke lounges has higher (infection) risks than eating in restaurants. We should enforce stricter restrictions and even closureExecutive councillor Ronny Tong
While karaoke lounges were not included in the ban, they are required to observe the same rules as restaurants, such as ensuring at least 1.5 metres distance between tables and limiting tables to four customers.
Mahjong parlours were also excluded in the closure without a clear explanation.
When asked if the government's social distancing restrictions on Saturday left a loophole, executive councillor Ronny Tong said he also found the rules weird.
"The government has explained that's a license issue. Mahjong parlours operate under a gambling licence, but not a restaurant nor amusement (licence), while karaoke lounges run under restaurant licences," Tong said on a radio programme on Wednesday morning.
"I think singing in karaoke lounges has higher (infection) risks than eating in restaurants. We should enforce stricter restrictions and even closure."
Tong said new regulations under the Prevention and Control of Disease ordinance has granted the authorities power to shut down certain venues amid the public health crisis, and it can be done swiftly.
"If the government decides to shut down, it could edit the (regulation) and close down other venues today. I think the government will seriously consider the idea," he said.
Regarding mahjong parlours, Tong agreed that the infection risks are high given the flow of people, and he proposed closing them as well.
The authority announced on Tuesday that five new cases had visited a RedMR karaoke lounge in Tsim Sha Tsui on March 24. The group is linked to another confirmed case revealed on Monday, who went to the same lounge with the same group of seven people.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health's communicable disease branch, on Tuesday described the cluster as a "small outbreak". The other two karaoke patrons, who had not been confirmed to be infected, were sent to quarantine centres.
In Japan, meanwhile, the governor of Tokyo has urged residents to ditch karaoke as calls grow for the country to take tougher measures to contain the rise of Covid-19 cases.
Medical experts in Hong Kong have urged the government to close down high-risk entertainment venues.
"Both karaoke bars and mahjong parlours are in small areas, and usually under bad ventilation. An infected person can easily spread diseases to persons nearby," infectious disease expert Dr Joseph Tsang Kay-yan said, adding the virus could be transmitted after infected people touch microphones, tables and bathroom taps in private karaoke lounges.
He also warned that all players in mahjong parlours touch the same mahjong tiles, increasing the risk of contact transmission.
"If there is no way to control the situation effectively … the ideal way is to shut them down," he said.
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