The Claim and Our Verdict
- The claim: A photo, widely shared on social media, claims that a local restaurant chain has received over 4,000 fines of HK$2,000 per person for not wearing face masks.
- A keyword search found similar claims have been circulating online since April 2020. However, the claim is false. In July 2020, Café de Coral refuted the rumor and clarified that the so-called 4000 fines were untrue. The Hong Kong government also clarified Apr. 6, 2020 that the fixed fine of HK$2,000 was applicable to persons who participate in a prohibited group gathering of more than four persons in public places; and if a catering premise violates the regulations, the person in charge is liable to penalty, rather than the diners.
- As of the issuance of the report, no credible reports related to the claim were found.
- On Feb. 9, 2022, the government tightened social distancing measures, which make no reference to the purported penalty for not wearing masks before the food arrives.
- Our ruling: We rate the claim as FALSE.
HKBU Fact Check received a fact check request to verify a message that has been going viral online. The message, written in traditional Chinese, translates as, “People who are dining out have to be aware! You will get a fine of $2000 if you remove your masks before the food arrives at your table. The same case applies if you do not put on your masks after you finish your food. This morning a waitress from Cafe de Coral said the restaurant had received 4000 fines already yesterday. Each customer received a fine of HK$2,000 because they sat on the restricted seats. She was so worried that she kept reminding customers not to sit in restricted areas or cross the line. She reiterated the fine was HK$2,000 per person. The government even dispatched plain-clothes police officers with pre-printed penalty tickets. All violators will face HK$2,000 fine if they remove their masks before food arrives.”
Café de Coral is a Hong Kong restaurant chain.
A keyword search found similar claims circulating online since April 2020. Café de Coral refuted the claim: “Café de Coral Group hereby clarifies that the rumor on the internet about 4000 fines for no masks at Café de Coral restaurants during the pandemic was untrue.”
On Apr. 6, 2020, the Hong Kong government also published a Facebook post to clarify the rumor: “Messages circulating online claim that diners will receive a HK$2,000 fine for not wearing masks before food arrives at table, or for sitting on the restricted area. In fact, the fine of HK$2000 only applies to the Prevention and Control of Disease (Prohibition on Group Gathering) Regulation (Cap. 599G), which prohibits group gatherings of more than four persons in public places. If the catering premises do not comply with the above regulation, the person responsible for carrying on a catering business who contravenes the regulation is liable on conviction to a fine of HK$50,000 and to imprisonment for six months…” The government, therefore, does not impose regulatory punishment on diners who take off masks before the food arrives. The fixed penalty is applicable to the person in charge of the catering business, rather than the diners.
As of the issuance of this report, no credible reports related to the claim were found.
On Feb. 9, 2022, the government tightened social distancing measures in view of changes in the epidemic situation, which took effect from Feb. 10 till Feb. 23. The latest measures also don’t include fines to diners who remove face masks before food arrives. According to the latest regulations, catering premises under Type D Mode of Operation will be required to operate under the “vaccine pass” arrangement, with all customers required to have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine while allowing a maximum of four persons per table. As for catering premises under Types B and C Modes of Operation which are not yet about to comply with the requirements of the “vaccine pass,” the maximum number of persons per table will be reduced to two, and they will need to prepare for the full implementation of the “vaccine pass” from February 24. Other requirements and restrictions on catering premises will remain in force, including that all customers, when they are away from the table, must not consume food or drink and must wear a mask.
Therefore, we rate the claim as FALSE.
- Agence France-Presse, “This photo does not show a Hong Kong police officer issuing a ‘face mask fine’ to a restaurant diner,” July 22, 2020.
- Facebook, post, Apr. 6, 2020.
- The Hong Kong government, “Government tightens social distancing measures in view of changes in epidemic situation,” Feb. 9, 2022.