Hong Kong blocks Tiananmen Square vigil with gathering ban

Restrictions were due to end but Hong Kong extends social distancing measures for 14 days

Hong Kong has in effect banned an annual vigil for the Tiananmen Square massacre by extending its physical distancing measures for another 14 days.

After two consecutive days without local transmissions of Covid-19, the city’s authorities announced some restrictions would ease, but those limiting gatherings to a maximum of eight would be extended for another 14 days.

The restrictions were due to expire this week but will now end no earlier than 5 June, the day after Hong Kong’s annual vigil commemorating the Chinese army’s brutal crackdown on protesters in 1989.

The event has been held every year since 1990. It is the biggest and traditionally the only major commemoration of the incident allowed in China, sometimes drawing more than 100,000 people.

Macau has traditionally held a photo exhibit on “tank man”, but last week authorities withdrew approval.

At a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Hong Kong’s secretary for food and health, Sophia Chan, said the city did not have the right conditions yet to relax physical distancing laws and denied the extension was designed to stop the vigil.

“All along we have extended bans by 14 days,” she said. “The latest measure has been following the 14-day rule and our overall consideration is about public health and there is no other factor coming into account.

“We are talking about major gatherings,” she emphasised later, and denied there was a double standard for religious gatherings, which would now be allowed, because they were restricted to half the usual capacity and had to be inside a religious place.

“We don’t want people to gather. If they gather there are risks.”

Police and authorities have been accused of using anti-epidemic laws to break up or prevent protest action, which is beginning to ramp up again amid increasing encroachments by Beijing.

Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said it was unreasonable to ban political rallies while schools and religious activities could restart. Lee told Asia Times that the organisers would meet to discuss alternatives to the vigil, traditionally held in Victoria Park in the city’s east.

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, earlier said there had been 23 straight days with no local infections before an outbreak was detected in a small family.

“We need to remain vigilant but there is no need to panic,” she said.

She said Hong Kong had never imposed a full city lockdown, but instead prohibited group gatherings of a certain size “because large crowds make it very easy to transmit infectious disease”.

Restaurants and bars have been allowed to reopen in recent weeks under strict conditions, but amid hot weather in the city, crowds have packed out some parts of the entertainment districts.


Helen Davidson

The GuardianTramp

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