HK third wave: restaurant industry group to roll out HK$50 million food safety scheme to ‘rescue’ sector

12-Aug-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Leaders of Hong Kong’s catering industry are set to roll out a HK$50 million citywide certification scheme for food safety aimed at the city’s 16,000 restaurants next month, in a desperate bid to help contain the spread of Covid-19, create jobs and rescue the battered food and drink sector.

Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, told the Post on Monday he was working with various industry leaders and organisations such as the Hong Kong Productivity Council on the scheme.

The move comes as restaurants continue to take a severe beating in the battle against a third wave of Covid-19 infections. Since February, the pandemic has brought the city to a near standstill for long periods of time.

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Starting in late July, the government imposed unprecedented social-distancing measures, including extending a ban on nighttime dining at restaurants and outlawing gatherings of more than two people.

Restaurant takings in the second quarter of 2020 dropped 26 per cent on last year, and receipts shrank from HK$28.6 billion (US$3.7 billion) to HK$21.2 billion between April and June year-on-year.

“We hope to restore public confidence over eating out, so we are gathering different parties for rolling out this certification scheme for Hong Kong’s eateries, with regard to their food safety and environmental hygiene standards,” Wong said.

Other partners include Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency, the International Food Safety Association (IFSA) and CMA Testing, a testing and inspection agency.

Wong, also the chair of Kampery Group, which operates coffee, tea, wine and organic food businesses, said he would formally submit the proposal to the government within days, and expected it to subsidise the scheme, which was estimated to cost about HK$50 million for each round of citywide certifications.

“We have briefly brought up our plan to some bureaus and they gave very positive feedback,” he said. “I see no reason the government would refuse to subsidise this scheme, which could help combat Covid-19 and rescue the catering sector.”

Wong said with the government’s funding, the scheme could create hundreds of jobs for school leavers, as he expected it to be mandatory for all licensed restaurants, with certification costing about HK$2,000 to HK$3,000 per establishment.

“The scheme will focus on training the trainers, who will go to train and inspect the restaurants for maintaining good practices for food safety and environmental hygiene,” he said. “We expect to create about 200 to 300 jobs as an auditing inspector. Each certification may last about three months or six months.

“We hope that through this certification scheme, we can assure the public that it is safe eating out.”

Wong noted that senior government officials had indicated to him that once new Covid-19 infections showed signs of easing, they would lift the ban on nighttime dining at restaurants.

“I think if the number of daily new cases falls under 50 for a period of time, the ban on nighttime dining should be lifted,” he said.

He also called on the government to provide another round of subsidies to prop up the embattled sector, estimating that over the past month at least 1,800 restaurants had suspended business temporarily to cut costs.

The government has already rolled out HK$290 billion in relief measures under an anti-epidemic fund, as well as budget measures to help the city weather the crisis, including offering wage subsidies of up to HK$9,000 per month for each worker to save jobs.

“Over the past month the catering sector’s business has taken a nosedive by over 60 per cent,” Wong said. “We are really worried. We hope that this time the government can offer cash handouts, such as HK$200,000 for small restaurants and HK$2 million for large ones to relieve the burden of paying rent.”

David Leung Chi-wai, chair of Seafood Delight Group, also called on the government to lift the nighttime ban, saying it had taken a toll on his 12 Chinese restaurants despite them offering 20 per cent discounts for takeaway and specially priced lunch sets.

“Over the past month, our restaurant chain has suffered a loss of business of over 70 per cent. In the past we could make an income of over HK$100,000 a day, but now we can only do about HK$30,000 worth of business per day,” he said.

“I don’t know why the government insists on banning nighttime dining. If it’s safe for daytime dining, why is it not the same for nighttime dining? The virus only comes out at nighttime?” he asked.

As for the certification scheme, Leung said he would take part, but hoped it would be free for all restaurants with the full subsidies by the government.

“While I support this scheme, I think for small restaurants that have a small kitchen, it may not be easy for them to fulfil all the certification’s criteria. The organiser needs to consider their difficulties,” he said.

Gordon Lam Sui-wa, convenor of the Hong Kong Small and Middle Restaurant Federation, accused the government of allowing the catering sector to bear the brunt of the health crisis, when it was the government whose shortcomings had led to the spike in cases.

“The restaurants that I know have suffered a loss of business of about 80 per cent over the past month due to the policy blunders,” he said. “The third wave of Covid-19 has nothing to do with Hong Kong’s restaurants, which all have done their best in combating the virus.”

“There’s entirely no need to ban dining at restaurants. I think the nighttime ban should be lifted immediately. It is not scientific at all,” he added.

Lam also urged the government to provide rent assistance, such as paying 80 per cent of restaurants’ rent for three months to help them ride out the difficulties.

“Since it is the government that imposed restrictions on our operations, it should help out restaurant operators to at least pay the rent based on their leases. This is entirely reasonable,” he said.

With regards to the certification scheme, he said he would have reservations about joining if it were not free for participants.


Category: Hong Kong

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