In this Feb 5, 2022 photo, an elderly man (right) exercises at a playground where the fitness machines are roped off due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions in the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong, as authorities announced a record number of new infections. (BERTHA WANG / AFP)
Hong Kong will adopt more stringent social distancing measures following an exponential increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city over the past few days.
The tightened measures include reducing the number of diners allowed per table, restricting group gatherings, and closing religious sites and hair salons from Thursday. The measures will remain in force until the rollout on Feb 24 of a “vaccine-pass” program allowing only vaccinated visitors to enter certain premises.
At a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said catering premises under Types B and C operating modes will only allow two dinners per table, and those under Type D can have four diners per table.
Under the government’s pandemic-related regulations, Type B restaurants must not exceed 50 percent of the seating capacity. The cap for Type C restaurants is 75 percent of the seating capacity. Type D restaurants can operate at full capacity.
The government is also extending group gathering restrictions to private premises with no more than two families allowed at one time
Staff members at Type B restaurants must undergo COVID-19 testing once every seven days, or must have completed a COVID-19 vaccination course; staff at Type C restaurants must have received their first dose of the vaccine, while those at Type D restaurants must be fully vaccinated.
The government is also extending group gathering restrictions to private premises — the first time such restrictions have come into force — with no more than two families allowed at one time.
Lam said that apart from the 17 kinds of premises that are already regulated under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance, six more kinds of premises — including religious sites, shopping malls, supermarkets, public markets and hair salons — will be added to the list after the “vaccine pass" program is launched on Feb 24.
The “vaccine pass" arrangement will initially allow those who have had at least one vaccination to enter certain public places, including eateries, public libraries and entertainment establishments.
Restaurants will carry out a pilot run of the program a few days earlier than Feb 24, Lam added.
The government is also considering making amendments to the Employment Ordinance, to address the increasing occurrences of employer-employee disputes as more people find themselves caught up in lockdowns in their residential buildings or have to undergo quarantine after community infections have spiraled.
The proposed amendments, if passed, will clarify what constitutes unreasonable dismissal and what does not. Under the proposed amendments, for employees who refuse to take COVID-19 vaccines and are therefore not permitted to return to work, termination of their employment contract by their employer will not be treated as unreasonable dismissal.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor addresses a press conference at the Central Government Offices at Tamar, Hong Kong on Feb 8, 2022. (CALVIN NG / CHINA DAILY)
On the other hand, if an employee is unable to go to work due to the government’s compulsory testing or lockdown requirements, and their employer terminates their employment contract as a result, such an act will constitute unreasonable dismissal.
And if someone is required to comply with compulsory quarantine measures or receive a mandatory virus test, that person can use the certificates issued by the Department of Health to apply for sick leave, said Lam.
According to the Labour Department, an employee employed for a period of not less than 24 months by an employer may claim compensation for unreasonable dismissal from that employer if they are dismissed for reasons other than those considered valid, such as misconduct or a failure to fulfil statutory requirements.
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