HONG KONG (Reuters) – Rugby fans and revellers readied for the Hong Kong Sevens on Friday as the city’s highest-profile sporting event returns from a three-year COVID-19 hiatus, though safety protocols are set to make for a more subdued affair than previous editions.

The Sevens, last held in 2019, comes after scores of events have been cancelled, postponed or re-routed to other Asian cities such as Singapore, Bangkok and Seoul due to Hong Kong’s rigid coronavirus rules.

Known for its festival vibe and fancy dress costumes, the three-day tournament is traditionally a big draw for visitors and big corporates.

The Nov. 4-6 event coincides with a global banking summit which drew top Wall Street executives in a bid to restore the city’s reputation as a global financial hub.

Both events have been pitched as an attempt to show that the Chinese special administrative region can resume business as normal.

However, even as many of Hong Kong’s COVID rules have been relaxed, including hotel quarantine on arrival, mask wearing remains mandatory. Proof of COVID vaccination and checking-in with a government app is required to enter most venues.

International arrivals are banned from visiting bars and restaurants for their first three days in Hong Kong.

Around 50% of Sevens spectators came from overseas in 2019, with the event contributing around HK$400 million ($50 million) to Hong Kong’s economy.

This year international spectators will be “down significantly”, organiser Hong Kong Rugby Union said, with this year’s event more “locally focused”.

Corporate box sales, which raked in HK$116 million in 2019, are down year-on-year, in line with expectations, the Union said. With many of Hong Kong’s restrictions only recently lifted many companies have had little time to plan for the event.

The government only confirmed in October that food would be allowed into the venue during the Sevens.

“These are significant barriers to corporate planning for the event.  We welcome the new measures of course, but they are likely coming a bit late in the day for November, ” the Union said.

HSBC and the city’s flagship airline Cathay Pacific are the two main sponsors of the Sevens.

City leader John Lee said this week that as Hong Kong’s COVID situation eases they can hold more big events.

Alex McQueen, 34, a player on Hong Kong’s team, said they were excited for the event’s return and had prepared as best as possible.

“We just get on with everything … we are hoping it can return to as big an event as it previously was before COVID.”

($1 = 7.8496 Hong Kong dollars)

(Reporting by Farah Master and Joyce Zhou; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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