Thousands of Hong Kongers flocked to the Mong Kok flower market on Saturday after health authorities, faced with a wave of coronavirus cases fueled by Omicron, abruptly canceled traditional Lunar New Year fairs, disappointing shoppers and florists .
In Mong Kok, Flower Market Road, locally known as fa hui, was packed as locals shopped 2.5 weeks before the Lunar New Year, which begins on February 1.
Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan Siu-chee said popular Lunar New Year fairs should be banned because the invisible chains of transmission of the Omicron variant remained in the city.
“The decision to cancel the Lunar New Year fairs was a difficult one,” she said. “From a public health point of view, we want to control the epidemic as soon as possible so that we cannot organize large gatherings.”
Chan also said the interior ministry and police were working together to monitor crowds in Yau Tsim Mong district, where people normally flock for wholesale flowers and discounted goods.
Flower markets are traditionally set up in public parks and football pitches during Lunar New Year, with thousands of florists and festive produce vendors selling decorations and traditional foods.
The government announced on Friday that it was canceling fairs at 15 venues due to a growing spread of infections.
Among Saturday shoppers in Mong Kok, Vivi Chung and Cato Chow, a couple in their 30s, said they hadn’t expected the area to be so crowded.
“Mong Kok is usually busy, but we didn’t expect so many people,” Chow said. “It’s disappointing that the fairs have been cancelled.”
Chung said they expected to spend around HK$2,000 on orchids, narcissus and decorations – and be out of the area within an hour. “I actually wanted to do it all in 30 minutes so we wouldn’t be in the crowded area too long, but it’s so crowded it will take us a while to get out,” she said.
A seller of locally grown tangerines said the cancellation of fairs was a big inconvenience for the floral industry.
“It’s a big headache. We were all eager to sell our products at the fairs, but now we have to make last-minute changes in the way we distribute tens of thousands of mandarin seedlings,” said the 62-year-old salesman, surnamed Leung.
Leung said it would be difficult for authorities to implement crowd control measures on Flower Market Road amid the pandemic measures.
“I’ve worked here for over two decades, it’s a known fact that the area is crowded even when people can buy flowers at other fairs around town,” he said.
“How are they supposed to control the crowds in the middle of the road? Why can’t we just run the fairs with social distancing measures and vaccine bubble requirements?”
Farms and suppliers of flowers, typically tangerines, orchids, narcissus and peach blossoms, were puzzled by the cancellation.
Li Wing-keung, owner of Keung Kee Garden in Tai Po, said losses could “potentially run into the millions” without the fairs.
“I can’t think too much about the losses at the moment. The cancellation of the shows has been announced (Friday) and our team is trying to organize alternative sales channels,” he said.
Li said all of its staff had been vaccinated in preparation for setting up 14 booths at various fairs, but the company was now facing a backlog of orders.
“We welcome everyone to our farm to purchase flowers and decorations, but please where possible guests should arrange their own transport to and from the farm. We do not have enough staff to make the deliveries ourselves,” he said.
Hong Kong online retailer HKTVmall has hosted 10 live shows over the past two weeks to promote products from local florists and help them generate sales.
Last year, authorities made a last-minute U-turn by allowing flower markets at major venues after florists drew up plans to distribute alternative produce.
Shopping centers also hosted markets offering festive products.
The East Point City mall in Tseung Kwan O launched a flower fair on Saturday through the end of the month, selling a mix of locally grown and imported orchids from Japan.
Five malls owned by developer Sun Hung Kai Properties will also host their own Chinese markets through the end of the month. Shoppers can choose from over 3,000 flowers and other traditional festive foods at APM Mall in Kwun Tong, Tai Po Mega Mall, Yuen Long Plaza, New Jade Mall in Chai Wan, and Chi Landmark. Fu to Pok Fu Lam.
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