Coronavirus: decline in HK restaurant takings narrows, amid optimism that easing of social-distancing rules is helping sector’s recovery

10-May-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

The decline in Hong Kong restaurant earnings has narrowed to 8.8 per cent in the first quarter of the year, while there are signs the easing of social-distancing rules since then is accelerating the industry’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

Restaurant receipts were HK$19.7 billion (US$2.5 billion) for January to March this year, according to provisional figures released on Thursday by the Census and Statistics Department, compared with HK$21.6 billion in the same period last year, when the coronavirus started to ravage the city.

Hong Kong has been hit by four waves of Covid-19, leaving businesses such as restaurants reeling from the multiple rounds of social-distancing measures imposed to contain the health crisis.

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Restaurant expenditure over the same period similarly declined year-on-year by a preliminary estimate of 8 per cent, to HK$6.4 billion.

Analysed by month, restaurant takings nosedived 38.7 per cent in January year-on-year, but bounced back with corresponding figures of 10.1 per cent and 20.7 per cent for February and March respectively, according to the provisional estimates.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, restaurant earnings plunged 25.1 per cent to HK$19.5 billion from HK$26 billion over the same period the previous year, according to data the department previously published.

As part of its “vaccine bubble” scheme, the government announced late last month the reopening of bars and other entertainment venues from April 29, with social-distancing restrictions on restaurants also relaxed through a complicated new set of rules.

The multi-tiered system, designed to boost the city’s flagging Covid-19 vaccination drive, was expected to offer a ray of hope for the city’s embattled restaurants, many of which have been struggling to survive through the pandemic.

A government spokesman said restaurants’ loss of earnings narrowed in 2021′s first quarter mainly because of a lower base of comparison.

“Business improved successively in February and March from the difficult situation in January, as the fourth wave of the local epidemic receded,” he said. “Yet, total restaurant receipts in March was still sizably lower than the levels before the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The spokesman warned the near-term business outlook for restaurants remained challenging, as local employment and individual incomes continued to be squeezed and inbound tourism remained in the doldrums.

“Nonetheless, the recent relaxation of certain restrictions on restaurants with the ‘vaccine bubble’ as the basis should render some support,” he said.

The spokesman called on the community to get vaccinated so as to lay solid foundations for the revival of local consumption and international travel.

Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, a lawmaker representing the catering sector, estimated that those restaurants able to take advantage of the bubble by opening for two more hours per day could rake in an extra 10 or 15 per cent of income.

“This is quite something. The vaccine bubble is certainly a good thing for them,” the executive councillor said.

But Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said not many venues were in a position to join the bubble.

The arrangements allow restaurants to operate until midnight, instead of 10pm under the old regime, and serve six people per table, up from four, based on staff receiving at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

“Many restaurants are small so they are not suitable for running a mixed model under the bubble,” Wong said, referring to the partitioning of areas in eateries depending on the vaccination levels of staff and customers.

“On the other hand, many catering staff are still not vaccinated yet so they still need to work harder to convince their staff to get jabbed in order to join the bubble,” he said.


Category: Hong Kong

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