Bar operators warned on Sunday that half of Hong Kong’s pubs could be gone for good if they’re still closed by Easter – as they urged authorities not to make their reopening dependent on higher vaccination rates

Local bars have been forced to stay shut since November – the third time they had been shuttered since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The chair of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association, Ben Leung, estimated that half of the sector, or around 700 pubs, will go out of business if they aren’t allowed to operate by early April.

He said 200 pubs had already closed down.

Leung added some bar owners have yet to receive a government subsidy in the second round of the anti-epidemic fund, which was announced in April last year.

He said this means the operators cannot close up shop despite their financial hardship, fearing that if they do, they will lose out on the subsidies.

Leung also urged authorities not to bundle the reopening of bars together with the city’s inoculation rate, after Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung became the latest official to hint at such an arrangement.

In his blog on Sunday, Cheung suggested restrictions could be relaxed if more people received the jabs.

“We have appealed to the sector to take the jabs but this is a voluntary programme,” said Leung, adding it’s not their job to boost people’s confidence in the vaccines.

The chair of the Hong Kong Bartenders and Mixologists Union, Cat Hou, said many in the sector had lost trust in officials over the imposition of anti-epidemic measures and questioned whether the government would re-open bars.

“Obviously we’re held hostage again… because from previous record, since the voluntary, then compulsory, Covid check, then the LeaveHomeSafe App – every time, [officials] say they will let us re-open,” she said.