HONG KONG: Filipino domestic worker Marites Saliganan loves getting outdoors on her one day off a week, and after Hong Kong’s government lifted a pandemic ban on gathering at beaches on Thursday (May 4), she and her friends headed for the sand.
Nestled on the southern side of Hong Kong’s main island, the wealthy town of Stanley offers a welcome respite from the city with its low-rise houses and seaside eateries.
But anyone venturing onto the beach in the last seven weeks faced hefty fines, as the city imposed its strictest social distancing measures yet to curb a virus outbreak earlier this year.
“We are so happy because today is the day of reopening the beach,” Saliganan, sporting a wide-brimmed hat, told AFP.
While much of the world began adjusting to living with the coronavirus, Hong Kong has gone in the opposite direction, hewing to a lighter version of China’s zero-COVID strategy.
A wave of the highly transmissible Omicron variant began tearing through the city’s defences in January.
It killed more than 9,000, mostly unvaccinated elderly people, and forced the reimposition of painful social distancing curbs that have plunged Hong Kong towards another economic recession.
Playgrounds and park benches were taped up, swimming pools closed and groups of police patrolled the open spaces, issuing fines to those caught breaching the rules.
In recent weeks, some of the restrictions have eased, including a ban on evening dining inside restaurants and the reopening of businesses like gyms and cinemas.
On Thursday, authorities reopened beaches and allowed people to exercise outdoors without masks for the first time in months.
Bars and nightclubs remain closed but are set to reopen soon.