Hong Kong lawmakers are not exempted from the new social-distancing rules outside the legislature, the government has said, as a pro-democracy lawmaker reportedly gathered in a group of 40 in a bar.
The statement came on Saturday night as local media reported that Tanya Chan from the Civic Party went to a bar in Sham Shui Po on Thursday night. The report described that the bar had its metal gate closed by half and that Chan claimed she had gone there in her capacity as a lawmaker to meet representatives from the catering industry. The bar was not operating officially.
Chan said on her Facebook page last Friday: "The meeting place was not a public place under the regulation, there was no operation going on at the time."
She also added she followed social-distancing measures at the place.
Hong Kong banned gatherings of more than four people, while also ordering a two-week closure of pubs and bars from last Friday, in a drastic escalation of social-distancing rules to check the spread of the coronavirus. The restrictions have mothballed about 1,200 businesses.
In the statement, the government said only a group gathering for performing any duty of a statutory or advisory body of the government was exempted from the social-distancing rules. A group gathering "necessary for the proceedings in the Legislative Council or a district council" was also exempted.
The statement mentioned that the Legco was neither a statutory nor an advisory body of the government. "Legislative councillors taking part in or organising group gathering on occasions outside the council, whether or not as a function of the Legco, are also not exempted by the regulation," the statement read.
It added that offenders faced up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,200).
The statement also said that whether the bar concerned would be regarded as a public or a private place would depend on the situation.
"If the situation at that time allowed members of the public to enter the bar premises, it might have fulfilled the definition of a public place and the requirements of prohibiting a group gathering under the regulation could be applicable."
Hong Kong reported 17 new virus cases on Saturday, taking the city's total number of infections to 863, with four fatalities.
A government spokesman labelled premises such as bars as high-risk venues in spreading the virus. Among the 573 confirmed virus cases recorded between March 19 and April 1, some 69 involved bars and similar premises.
He urged members of the public to maintain social-distancing rules to help the city tide over the pandemic.
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