Published: 01:04, April 7, 2020 | Updated: 05:10, June 6, 2023
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CE says opposition lawmaker’s pub gathering flouted ban
By Zhao Ruinan and Chen Zimo

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Monday that an opposition lawmaker’s recent visit to a bar gathering of 40 people flouted a recent ban in the city on public gatherings involving more than four people. 

On a social media post, the Hong Kong leader said that the gathering on Thursday did not qualify for an exemption from the current ban. 

The ban, valid for 14 days, came into effect on March 29, which intends to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus. Anyone defying the ban faces a maximum penalty of a fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,225) and a prison term of up to six months, according to the existing regulation. 

Lam noted that exemption to the ban applies only to proceedings in the Legislative Council or District Councils. Legislators participating in or organizing group gatherings outside LegCo for whatever purpose will not be exempt, she said. 

About 40 people, including opposition lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong, were seen meeting at a bar. Police went to the bar in response to a noise complaint and then gave a verbal warning to the people assembled there.

In response, Chan said that as a lawmaker, she is qualified to be exempt from the new regulation. She also said the gathering at the bar, with its shutters partially down, did not constitute a breach of the ban because the bar was not open for business at that time. 

Lawmaker and Barrister Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said Chan had tried to justify her actions by finding loopholes in the government’s regulation. But Chan ignored the fact that the ban aimed to contain the coronavirus in Hong Kong by encouraging social distancing, Leung said.

As a lawmaker and a public figure, Chan should set an example and cancel offline activities in efforts to help combat the pandemic, said Leung.

Leung also urged the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government and the police to strictly enforce the law and impose proper penalties to show that no one is exempt from the law.

Barrister Lawrence Ma Yan-kwok, chairman of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, noted that Chan, as a lawyer, should have understood how the government’s ban works. The regulation clearly stipulates that a public place refers to anywhere to which members of the public have access. This obviously includes restaurants, bars, and cinemas.

Ma said a gathering of 40 people was a serious breach to this law as it exceeded the government limit by 10 times.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch at the Centre for Health Protection, said on Monday that more than 80of the city’s 914 COVID-19 cases were directly connected to bars and similar establishments. The government announced the closing of all the bars across the territory for 14 days since Friday.

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