Coronavirus: staff arrested as another HK bar raided, but customers let go for maintaining social distancing

13-Apr-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The operators and staff of a Tsim Sha Tsui pub raided in the early hours of Friday were arrested for breaching the city’s mandatory closure of bars, though their customers escaped prosecution for the drinking session as they were complying with social-distancing measures.

While Hong Kong is in the midst of a 14-day shutdown designed to stem the spread of Covid-19, the pub, on the third floor of a commercial building on Cameron Road, was still in operation when police came through the door.

Superintendent Alan Chung of the Kowloon West regional crime unit said 25 customers were found drinking in the 2,000 sq ft venue.

“They occupied nine tables and each table had less than four people. The space between each table also met requirements,” he said.

“So they were not in breach of the prohibited gathering rules. They were allowed to leave.”

While no customers were charged for the late-night drinking session, police did arrest two men found to be on a police wanted list for unpaid traffic fines. A female customer was also arrested for failing to produce identification.

But the two operators and five staff members of the pub five men and two women all now face charges for violating the emergency ban that took effect on April 3.

As of midnight on Friday, 10 people had been prosecuted by officers from various departments under a raft of new measures designed to inhibit the spread of Covid-19, according to a government spokesman. The offence carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a HK$50,000 fine.

The raid was part of the five-day police operation in Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po that began on Thursday night.

At about 3am on Wednesday, police found 64 customers and one operator in a Hai Phong Road pub in Tsim Sha Tsui. The operator was charged with violating the closure order, while police said the 64 patrons would be issued court summonses for violating the regulation banning gatherings larger than four.

The day before,police rounded up 91 people found crammed into a 1,000 sq ft unlicensed pub on Hillwood Road in the same district. They were arrested for drug-related offences and selling or drinking liquor on unlicensed premises.

The operator of that pub was later charged with violating the emergency shutdown measure, while he and three staff members were also prosecuted for selling liquor on unlicensed premises.

The 87 customers were released on bail, pending further investigation and are required to report back to police later this month.

The ban on public gatherings of more than four people that took effect on March 29 is among a series of new government measures designed to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Under the new regulations, people who take part in a prohibited gathering may be subject to a HK$2,000 fine, while those who organise or allow the gathering face a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a HK$25,000 fine.

As of midnight on Friday, officers from various departments had carried out 19,939 inspections, leading to 2,401 verbal warnings and 30 fines under the new regulations.

The government clarified earlier this week that if more than four customers were found seated together in a restaurant, the owner would bear the legal responsibility. The clarification was issued after rumours were circulated online that more than 4,000 customers of a fast-food chain had been fined for breaching the social-distancing rules in the eatery.

But Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said customers could also be held responsible if they gather in groups of more than four, as restaurants and pubs could be categorised as “public places” under the new regulations.

“The rules are new and some areas can sometimes be unclear … But we also have to look at the reasons for the legislation, which is prohibiting people to gather in large groups,” Luk said.


Category: Hong Kong

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