Revelers return to HK’s nightlife hotspots to celebrate Halloween amid small protests

Victor Ting and Chan Ho-him, South China Morning Post

Posted at Nov 01 2020 05:19 PM

Revellers flooded Hong Kong’s entertainment districts on Halloween night, many of them paying scant regard to Covid-19 social-distancing rules after restrictions were eased, while small protests sprang up elsewhere in a reminder of last year’s social unrest.

Some demonstrators displayed political messages, including ones in support of Thailand’s protesters. In Lan Kwai Fong, the famous bar district in Central, a protester in her 30s had donned a mask emblazoned with the name of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and the words “step down”.

Youth and student-led demonstrations that began in July are calling for the ousting of the former junta leader as leader. She said some of her friends were in Thailand and she hoped to “make use of the freedoms remaining” in Hong Kong after a national security law took effect in June.

“We want him [Prayuth] to step down,” she said. “The demands for democracy have been suppressed by military rule in Thailand. How should he still remain in power?”

She added the demonstrators “are not alone, we are standing with you all”.

Two protesters, aged 16 and 20, put on masks to mark the 14th month of a police operation at Prince Edward MTR station. They were later taken aside by officers and searched. Several hundred residents gathered with flowers outside the station to mark the occasion.

Four Yau Tsim Mong district councillors stood in silence, carrying flowers in their hands, while more than a dozen officers stood nearby and carried out a stop and search on a few pedestrians.

On August 31 last year, officers pursuing anti-government protesters entered train carriages and beat protesters with batons and pepper spray. The act angered democracy activists and generated unsubstantiated claims of deaths that have been repeatedly denied and denounced by police and government officials.

Under relaxations that took effect on Friday, bars are allowed to host four people at each table, operate at 75 per cent and stay open until 2am. But patrons must wear masks when not drinking and tables spaced 1.5 metres apart or with partitions separating them.

Anthea Cheung, director of the Lan Kwai Fong Association, which represents more than 100 clubs, bars and restaurants, said business in the entertainment zone on Halloween might only reach about 70 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels.

She said clubs, bars and restaurants under the association had been reminded to display posters urging customers to put on masks.

“With social-distancing measures relaxed, we find [more] people coming up. It’s almost full for some bars [tonight],” she said, referring to the 75 per cent capacity.

But bar manager Ludy Medina hoped business this Halloween would be better than last year’s. She said she would adhere to social-distancing and infection-control rules, including asking customers to put on masks if they were not drinking.

“This time last year, there were protests.” she said. “I think there are more people this year compared to the [last] one. “We have kept hand sanitiser ready for use before and after drinking … If [customers] don’t have masks, we won’t let them in.”

Police and officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department patrolled the bar districts in Central, Tsim Sha Tsui, Wan Chai and Mong Kok to enforce social distancing, but many revellers were paying scant regard to the rules.

On Friday night, officers gave out six tickets to bar owners for breaching rules on table spacing and two to operators for staying open past the 2am deadline.