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Hong Kong food sector faces another round of challenges

Restaurants face new set of restrictions that allow only takeout service after 6 p.m.

Hong Kong was one of the first areas outside China to implement COVID-19 preventive measures earlier this year, and after a second wave of infections this spring, the city is now being challenged by a new spike in cases, according to Joel Haggard, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) senior vice president for the Asia Pacific.

"As one of the first areas outside of China to start to lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Hong Kong economy has now endured a half-year of COVID-19 fear and uncertainty," Haggard relayed. "Hong Kong has endured many pandemics before. It was one of the hardest hit during the 2003 [severe acute respiratory syndrome] outbreak, and it's been on the front lines of various avian influenza outbreaks. Its pandemic response system is considered world class, and the city has been one of the few not to have had to completely shut down its society with shelter-in-place rules."

The latest round of COVID-19 restrictions is probably the toughest challenge for Hong Kong, he said, as new cases with unexplained origins are reaching a level that could overwhelm the health system.

Even though Hong Kong is completely dependent on food imports, supply chains have held up “remarkably well.” Further, Haggard said Hong Kong's retail meat sales are very strong, and sales through e-commerce are expanding rapidly.

Still, restaurants face a new round of restrictions that allow only takeout service after 6 p.m. Haggard explained that while most establishments have remained open throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 has hit Hong Kong's foodservice and hospitality sectors particularly hard.

“The Hong Kong government is hoping that by allowing outlets to stay open they can somehow survive on lunch and takeaway dinner service while it attempts to bring these new outbreaks under control,” he said.

All of this comes on top of the damage the industry suffered late last year during pro-democracy protests, Haggard said, adding, “So, operators here have to be some of the most challenged on the planet."

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