Govt makes beaches U-turn – but they’re still closed this weekend
After three months, Hong Kong’s beach shutdown has officially ended – but you still won’t be able to legally visit a beach until next Tuesday.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), which manages Hong Kong’s 39 public beaches, announced the lifting of the ban earlier this week.
The re-opening, which includes Lantau’s popular Cheung Sha, Pui O, Tong Fuk and Silvermine Bay beaches, coincides with the regular end of the lifeguard season, so there will be no lifeguards on duty.
The decision came six weeks after swimming pools were opened again and just three days after a critical South China Morning Post article asked why Hong Kongers were now free to visit Singapore but not the local beach.
Ocean Recovery Alliance founder Doug Woodring pointed out to the SCMP “there’s hundreds of people in Central standing right next to each other on every street corner every day.”
By contrast, “when people go to the beach, they like to stay separate naturally.”
An LCSD spokesperson said the closures were due to “the open environment” of beaches that made it “difficult to enforce the epidemic prevention and social distancing measures as implemented in sports venues and swimming pools.”
Three days later, these social distancing measure suddenly became enforceable as the department lifted its ban, although it did remind people to wear a mask “at all times” on the beach.
In reality, the beach closures have been somewhat farcical all along and there is no shortage of Lantau residents who have continued to swim, walk or exercise their dog on the beach despite the official closures.
That is because the restrictions apply only to the area inside the rope and the shark net. Outside are no limits, but there also are no lifeguard services and the waters are often more dangerous.
This has brought other problems. As Olivier Courret, who runs a group called Open Water Swimmers of Hong Kong, told the SCMP:
“The main issue is people swimming outside the safety nets because they don’t have a choice any more,” he said. “And some of them don’t have open water common sense, or skills, and I could see them putting themselves in dangerous situations.
Not for the first time, the government had made the right decision after exhausting all other possibilities.
Photo: Pui O Beach (file photo)
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Tai O warns tourists to stay out of residential areas
The Tai O Rural Committee and local residents have asked visitors to stay away from residential areas of the popular tourist village.
The rural committee posted a notice on Friday requesting tourists not to enter residential areas, Oriental Daily reports.
Inhabitants of the historic stilt housing districts, including Yee Chung, Sham Chung, Sun Sha and Sha Chai Min, have posted similar notices.
However, Oriental Daily noted that many of the popular landmarks, such as the suspension bridge and local restaurants, were continuing to attract visitors, while some tourists said they had not encountered any obstructions.
Eddie Tse, head of the Tai O Sustainable Development Education Workshop, said the number of tourists to Tai O had increased in recent months.
He said that while the old stilt housing areas were some distance from the main street, they still attracted sightseers wanting to take photographs.
He said many of the local residents were elderly and vulnerable, and the narrow streets and closely-packed stilt homes could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus. Local residents fear the entry and exit of outsiders will increase the risk of spreading the disease.
Mui Wo school re-opened for storage, not quarantine: Health Dept
The vacant Heung Yee Kuk school in Mui Wo has been reopened to store material for the planned Penny’s Bay quarantine centre.
Health Department officials have denied it will be used as a quarantine facility itself, Apple Daily reported.
The sudden flurry of activity earlier this week, bedding, tables and chairs piled up in the school ground, prompted concerns from local residents that the long disused site may be deployed as a quarantine centre.
Security guards at the school gate said some local residents alarmed they had called police.
The Health Department said it was using the school to store furniture and other items ahead of the anticipated opening of the Penny’s Bay facility next month.
The Apple Daily noted that some of the items, including mattresses, were stored uncovered in the schoolgrounds and had no protection from the sun or the rain.
The Penny’s Bay centre, now under construction near Disneyland at a cost of HK$194 million, will host 800 units, according to Health Secretary Sophia Chan.
The school, officially known as the New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School, has been closed since 2007. It is one of more than 100 vacant school sites across the city.