Masks off, beer poured at Hong Kong Rugby Sevens after COVID restrictions dropped
HONG KONG : Hong Kong’s popular Rugby Sevens tournament kicks off in the financial hub on Friday, with revellers partying for the first time in three years without COVID-19 rules, including face masks.
The three-day competition, held from March 31 to April 2, is one of many events the city is holding to attract international tourists and business travellers to revive Hong Kong’s economy and promote it as a cultural hub.
The Hong Kong leg of British music festival Creamfields is also taking place on April 1-2. The Chinese special administrative region has hosted financial summits in the past two weeks as well as Art Basel Hong Kong, one of Asia’s leading contemporary art fairs.
Scores of events were cancelled, postponed or taken to other Asian cities such as Singapore, Bangkok and Seoul because of Hong Kong’s rigid coronavirus rules.
The former British colony dropped its mandatory mask mandate in March as authorities launched a promotion campaign dubbed “Hello Hong Kong”, offering visitors 500,000 free plane tickets.
Known for its festival vibe and costumes, the Sevens were last held in Hong Kong in November but more muted than usual, with occupancy constraints, masks and COVID vaccine proof required. International visitors were not allowed to attend unless they had been in the city for three days.
The city’s Rugby Union is more upbeat about the upcoming event.
“With masks off and smiles on, the world-famous Sevens atmosphere is back,” the union said, adding that corporate boxes were almost sold out and international demand was nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. “Over 20 per cent of tickets purchased in the public sale are coming from overseas audiences, signalling Hong Kong’s return is in full swing.”
HSBC and the city’s flagship airline Cathay Pacific are the two main sponsors of the Sevens.