Bars make quiet start as new rules kick in

Bars in party hotspot Lan Kwai Fong welcomed customers again on Thursday from a monthslong shutdown, but they had to turn away some patrons under new vaccination and Covid app requirements ordered by the government.

A few customers in their 20s were seen struggling to use the government’s iAM Smart app to get their digital vaccination proof outside a bar. One of them could not get in because the document she received from a private clinic was in black and white.

“It’s pretty upsetting because we’ve been planning for this for days now,” said the woman named Tameka.

The group of three eventually decided to move on to other venues to try their luck after failing to get their iAM Smart app working, and they have a backup plan.

“Honestly, I’m already used to getting my drinks from the supermarkets, or 7/11s, instead of bars,” said Jack from the group.

“If the bars are this restrictive, we might as well just go to ‘Club 7/11’.”

Other customers who got their vaccination proof accepted were delighted over the reopening of bars.

“I had quit drinking for six months because of [the closures in] Lan Kwai Fong,” said one man surnamed Cheung, a regular at bars in the area before the pandemic began.

“Some of my friends are on their way here after just getting their shots,” he added.

Some operators of the catering sector have complained that the set of requirements for restaurants and bars to reopen or operate for longer hours were too complicated and difficult to carry out, but Cheung’s friend praised the government for the rules.

“I think it’s quite a good policy,” said Vanessa. “When we get entry, the government will know our information, if really something happen then they can trace us, I think this is to protect us.”

Under a tiered system, restaurants are allowed to operate until up to 2am, depending on their staff and customers’ vaccination status and the use of the government’s LeaveHomeSafe app that helps people record where they have been to, while some venues, like bars and nightclubs, can only reopen after all staff and customers have taken at least one Covid jab.

Bar owner Roden Wong, who runs two bars in Lan Kwai Fong, expects he will lose about 90 percent of his regular customers because of the vaccination requirement.

He also complained about the government-designed app that allows businesses to scan customers’ digital vaccination records.

“That app was quite unstable I would say, it was not quite user-friendly, it was only for Android phones,” he said, adding that he had to buy two new phones for the rule.

But he remained hopeful.

“Most of our customers, at first they didn’t want to do the vaccine, but during these few days they felt like it’s time to get the vaccine and I think things are going to get better, but it just takes time.”