Hong Kong is to further relax Covid restrictions, permitting bars to remain open until 2am, and increasing the number people allowed at a restaurant table to eight from four, as cases continue to fall in the city, according to leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday.

In addition, beaches and swimming pools will also reopen as from Thursday, Lam said during a news briefing, whilst the extended opening hours for bars and the reopening of some other venues will come into effect from 19th May.

Health authorities in Hong Kong reported 283 Covid cases on Monday, the first time the daily figure has fallen under the 300-mark in almost three months. Hong Kong has registered over 1.2 million cases and more than 9.300 fatalities since the outbreak of the pandemic, Reuters reports.

“The COVID number has dropped to three digits in mid-April and didn’t rebound, despite foot traffic increasing during two holidays,” Lam said.

Covid restrictions have hammered businesses in the city, leading to a net outflow of around 70,000 people in February and March, a rise from almost 17,000 in December.

However, normality is slowly returning to Hong Kong, with face-to-face classes resuming in schools and many returning to work in offices. That said, seven days of hotel quarantine is still mandatory for all arrivals into the city.

According to Natixis senior economist, Gary Ng, the easing restrictions would help to bolster consumption but fall short of what is required for a full economic recovery. “The cost of stringent border control remains detrimental as it takes a heavy toll on Hong Kong’s competitiveness,” Ng told Al Jazeera.

“The negative impact is not only reflected in net people movement but also in external trade. In comparison, Hong Kong’s exports to mainland China fell by 16% year-on-year in March 2022, while Asian peers kept their momentum at 12% year-on-year. Therefore, Hong Kong needs to speed up its reopening of the external border before its competitors catch up. It is better late than never.”

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