Revelers return to Hong Kong 7s for 1st time since pandemic


HONG KONG (AP) — Revelers returned to Hong Kong Stadium on Friday to enjoy a highly-anticipated international rugby sevens tournament…

HONG KONG (AP) — Revelers returned to Hong Kong Stadium on Friday to enjoy a highly-anticipated international rugby sevens tournament for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

It wasn’t a celebration for everyone, though, with some international fans unaware of the city’s pandemic restrictions turned away at the gates.

The Hong Kong Sevens, a popular stop on the World Rugby Sevens Series circuit, is part of the government’s drive to restore the city’s image as a vibrant financial hub after it scrapped mandatory hotel quarantine for travelers.

Hundreds of spectators, some in fancy dress and superhero costumes, had gathered by mid-afternoon and the crowd was expected to build up during the evening sessions.

The city’s pandemic rules require spectators to show a photo of their rapid virus test results and scan a risk notification app upon entry. Fans were required to wear masks except when eating or drinking in their seats. The stadium in Causeway Bay will be capped at 85% of its 40,000 capacity.

The world’s leading teams are competing in Hong Kong, where the tournament for the condensed rugby format started in the 1970s and really took hold in the 80s, accelerating rugby seven’s eventual inclusion in the Olympics in 2016.

The two-time Olympic champion and defending World Cup Sevens champion Fijians will be in action, along with 2022 world series champion Australia, which finishes the program on Day 1 against host Hong Kong.

Overseas patrons, who used to account for a significant percentage of ticket sales in what has always been a party-like atmosphere at the stadium, need to comply with extra rules set for arrivals, such as undergoing other COVID tests and monitoring their health. Restaurant and bar visits are not allowed during their first three days in the city.

While some local fans and international spectators weren’t bothered by the controls, the rules proved to be an upsetting experience for others.

Businessman Renier du Plessis from South Africa arrived in the city with three friends on Thursday to watch the tournament but he was barred from entering the stadium because he failed to meet the health code requirements.

They were unaware of the rules partly because they bought the tickets months ago, du Plessis said.

“It’s disappointing, you know, the fact that we cannot do anything. I’m not allowed anywhere. So where am I supposed to be for the next three days?” he said.

Some German exchange students were already used to the precautionary rules and did not find them troublesome.

“It’s probably one of the biggest events that we will attend in Hong Kong over our time, and we only have one month left. So we’re really looking forward to this,” 21-year-old university student Bella Müller said.

Hong Kongers, who mostly came in groups, were excited to attend a long-awaited large scale event. IT specialist Janssen Chow, 26, was happy that he could at least eat and drink in an enjoyable atmosphere.

“It’s already better than just sitting here,” he said.

At a separate forum Friday, Regina Ip, a leading member of Hong Kong’s cabinet, the Executive Council, described the Hong Kong Sevens as a “test.” If the infection figures have not surged rapidly after the three-day event, she said that the city would have the conditions to further open up.

The former British colony also kicked off a five-day “FinTech Week,” and a major financial conference that featured more than 200 global financial executives this week.


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