Editorial : A ban on alcohol sale

【明報專訊】AS HONG KONG PEOPLE in the UK and the US are returning to the city in droves to flee the pandemic, there has been a marked increase in imported coronavirus cases in Hong Kong, while local infections also threaten to rise. In light of the fact that several cases were related to pubs and other venues, the government has temporarily barred pubs and restaurants from selling alcoholic drinks in its new measures against the pandemic. The industry has voiced its opposition in unison. One of the key components of anti-pandemic work at community level is about minimising social contact in high-risk venues. The rising number of infections originating from the Lan Kwai Fong cluster shows that pubs have indeed become potential sites of viral spread, carrying risks that no ordinary restaurants can compare with. Some of those returning to Hong Kong from Europe and the US have picked up the pub culture there and like to gather to quaff pint after pint and have a casual chat. The risk of cross-infection cannot be underestimated. To fight against the pandemic, it is necessary for the government to take measures to make people less inclined to assemble at high-risk venues.

For more than half a month, confirmed infections in Hong Kong have been mostly imported cases. But recently the number of local cluster infections at community level has been on the rise as well, involving wedding banquets as well as big parties attended by a hundred people. This shows that some people have lowered their guard. Particularly worthy of concern is the constant increase in the number of infections from the Lan Kwai Fong cluster. Yesterday (March 24) Hong Kong registered 30 new confirmed cases, most of which involved people who had travelled abroad. As for local cases, six people were related to the Lan Kwai Fong cluster. It is easy for groups of people having a chat in pubs to forget themselves under the influence of alcohol, thus neglecting anti-pandemic work. The government has proposed formulating laws to temporarily prohibit about 8,600 bars, restaurants and clubs with a liquor license from selling alcoholic drinks in the hope of minimising the number of people coming together in these venues to amuse themselves. This has provoked strong opposition from the industry. Some are unhappy that there has not been a consultation exercise, while others have challenged the logic of "banning alcohol to fight the pandemic". Some people point out that citizens might shift to their homes where they throw parties as before with alcohol they have bought. Some people in the bar industry say bluntly that a ban on the sale of alcohol is tantamount to shutting down their business.

An alcohol ban has nothing to do with the fight against the pandemic itself. However, a ban on alcohol is a different concept from prohibiting alcohol from being sold and consumed at venues. The latter is aimed at preventing people from assembling at alcohol-selling venues for amusement. The Hong Kong government has not barred citizens from consuming alcohol, so the two concepts should not be confused. The key to combating the pandemic at community level is to reduce unnecessary human contact and prevent crowds from forming at high-risk venues.

One of the main reasons why confirmed cases have shot up in Hong Kong is the return of Hong Kong people from infected areas in Europe and the US. This has nothing to do with the closure of borders. What has happened in the US also illustrates that mere reliance on the closure of borders not accompanied by anti-pandemic efforts at community level will not be sufficient to prevent a major outbreak. The industry cannot use the issue of the closure of borders in defence of their opposition to the strengthening of anti-pandemic measures at community level. True, it is difficult to prevent citizens from buying alcohol and throwing parties at their homes instead of a bar. But this shows exactly the necessity of self-discipline. Our anti-pandemic work will not be successful if everyone prioritises personal freedom or interests over the public interest.

明報社評2020.03.25:減少高風險場所群聚 人人忍痛抗疫為大我







forget yourself : to behave in a way that is not socially acceptable

amusement : the process of getting or providing pleasure and enjoyment

prioritise : to treat sth as being more important than other things

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