Citizens in Hong Kong flocked to beauty salons, massage parlours, gyms, cinemas and temples for the first time in months on Thursday, after officials eased stringent Covid curbs imposed early this year.
Many schools also reopened for students weary of online classes.
Restaurants were said to have been booked out for weeks ahead after the hours for dining out were extended until 10pm from 6pm, while group of up to four were allowed, instead of just two people.
It was good news for Hong Kong, but cities on the mainland such as Shanghai were still facing tough restrictions on their movement.
The easing came as the number of Covid infections in Hong Kong dropped below 1,000 over the past six days – down from a peak of more than 70,000 on March 3.
Health authorities reported 628 new cases on Thursday, however, and urged vigilance against any rebound in infections.
Though the relaxation brought relief for many, scores of businesses have closed and tens of thousands of people have fled the city after authorities re-imposed the contentious Zero-Covid measures in January that were first adopted in 2020.
Hong Kong’s borders have effectively been sealed since 2020, with few flights landing and fewer transit passengers permitted, hammering the city’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 battling to stay afloat, and others on borrowed time.
“The reopening of gyms is a happy thing, but 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, 25, a coach at Fitness Formula.
While densely-packed Hong Kong held Covid at bay for much of 2021, a surge of the highly contagious Omicron variant brought the former British colony to its knees in February, swamping its world-class medical system.
Its tally of infections is more than 1.1 million, with 8,973 deaths.
• Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard
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