Hong Kong courts – Latest guidance on COVID-19 measures
Given the severity of the "fourth wave" of COVID-19 which Hong Kong is currently experiencing, it became inevitable that the government would roll out tougher social distancing measures and that the courts would follow suit. On 1 December 2020, the judiciary issued its latest notification for stakeholders about the general arrangement of court and registries business. The courts and their registries very much remain open for business, but they are not dropping their guard.
By the end of summer 2020 in Hong Kong, the third wave of COVID-19 appeared to be receding and some social distancing measures were eased. Daily reported cases of infections fell to single figures or zero and those cases that were identified tended to be so-called "imported cases" (ie residents returning to Hong Kong). However, towards the end of November 2020 it became evident that Hong Kong was experiencing a fourth wave, as the height of the flu season approached. One high profile casualty of the worsening situation in Hong Kong was the "travel bubble" with Singapore that had been due to commence at the end of November 2020, but which has now been put on hold.
If the first wave of COVID-19, at the beginning of 2020, was primarily attributed to residents travelling to and from mainland China, and the second and third waves to certain exempted persons travelling without restriction to Hong Kong and some returning residents, the fourth wave appears to be made up largely of locally transmitted cases. Many of these cases are related to "cluster groups" originating out of "dance studios". Worryingly, it appears that the original source of many of the reported cases cannot be traced.
At the time of writing, Hong Kong is headed towards approximately 7,000 reported cases – up from approximately 5,400 about one month ago (in mid-November 2020), although thankfully to date there has not been a marked increase in the number of fatalities.
The government has also announced the closure of kindergartens and schools until the new year. Most of the city's approximately 177,000 civil servants are required to work from home as from 2 December 2020, unless they are providing emergency or essential on-site services. Strict social distancing regulations remain in place and have been tightened – for example, gatherings in public are now limited to two persons. Wearing facemasks in all indoor and outdoor public places remains compulsory and is observed.
Virtually all entertainment venues have closed for at least two weeks as from the end of November 2020. For now, restaurants ("dine-in" services close at 22.00) and gymnasiums remain open – a recognition by the government, perhaps, that people need to eat and that there is a high incidence of "eating out" in the city. To date, gymnasiums have not proved high risk, provided that users keep their distance, although they were closed for a period during the second wave.
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