HONG KONG: Hong Kong authorities relaxed some of the world's most stringent COVID-19 curbs this week, bringing relief to residents and businesses for the first time in more than four months.
Salons, gyms, massage parlours, theme parks, cinemas and places of worship have seen an increase in visitors, while many schools have resumed in-person learning.
Many restaurants report receiving reservations for weeks ahead after dining hours were extended until 10 p.m. and permissible group sizes were increased from two to four.
The scenes in Hong Kong are in sharp contrast to Shanghai, though, where authorities have said that they will retain tough curbs.
The number of daily COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong has dropped below 1,000 for the past six days, from more than 70,000 on March 3.
Health authorities, however, urged vigilance against any rebound in infections.
The relaxation has come too late for scores of businesses that have closed and tens of thousands of people who fled Hong Kong, as authorities re-imposed measures in January.
The city has struggled to impose a "dynamic zero" COVID policy, as opposed to living with the virus.
Its borders have effectively been sealed since 2020, denting Hong Kong's reputation as a global hub.
Swimming pools and beaches remain shut, frustrating many athletes, while bars, nightclubs and saunas are still closed, with many just trying to survive.
"I hope the government will give us some subsidies because we have been closed on and off for a year-and-a-half, and lost a lot of customers," said Parker Chan, a coach at Fitness Formula, as reported by Reuters.
A surge of the highly contagious Omicron variant in February caused the world-class Hong Kong medical system to be swamped and brought the infection tally to more than 1.1 million, with 8,973 reported deaths.