Hong Kong will lift indoor and outdoor Covid mask rules after 3 years from Wednesday
Hong Kongers and tourists can go mask-free from Wednesday as the city finally lifts its last major Covid-19 restriction after nearly three years.
At a media session ahead of Tuesday’s Executive Council meeting, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu announced the city’s mask requirements indoors, outdoors, and on public transportation would be scrapped starting March 1.
However, wearing face coverings is still required in some facilities with administrative functions, such as nursing homes and hospitals, he added.
Lee also repeatedly ducked questions as to whether his announcement was prompted by the decision by neighboring Macau to lift general mask-wearing rules outdoors starting Monday.
“Based on the overall assessment and the factors considered, I made the decision,” he said. “I told people two months ago that this is an issue that I will be actively monitoring and will also consider when would be an appropriate time (to lift the mandate).”
The city leader said the move was due to the local coronavirus situation and the end of a wave of cases of influenza and other respiratory viruses.
“The data showed that the local epidemic situation was under control and there was no big upsurge. Hong Kong has already built a broad and comprehensive immunity barrier,” Lee said, adding that there have been no outbreaks in high-risk groups such as hospitals, patients and staff, or schools and nursing homes for the elderly.
Lee also said Hong Kong’s epidemic situation has not worsened as a result of coronavirus mutations.
“The overall risk is under control. Now is an appropriate time to cancel the mask order entirely,” he said.
“We are starting to resume normalcy comprehensively. This will be very beneficial to economic development, international competitiveness, as well as our activities involving everyone in Hong Kong.”
Health Minister Lo Chung-mau said removing the mask mandate means Hong Kong is returning to a state of normality.
“The lifting of the mask mandate means an official end to all social distancing measures. We hope that tomorrow, March 1st, will be a better day. We can all show our smiles and say ‘Hello Hong Kong,'” Lo said. Referring to the government’s recent worldwide campaign to attract visitors to the city.
Lo explained the authorities decided to change the policy all at once rather than gradually, as such an approach would have minimal impact.
“The anti-epidemic effect of maintaining the mask order (in some places) is not great. Also, it would be quite complicated and difficult to enforce the rules and inconvenient for the public,” he said.
The minister added that the Center for Health Protection will issue guidelines on wearing masks in poorly ventilated places for people with respiratory symptoms or long-term illnesses.
Hong Kong’s mask mandate took effect in July 2020 and has been renewed regularly, with the most recent review granting an extension of the guidelines until March 8.
Under the soon-to-be-repealed policy, people visiting country parks or engaging in strenuous physical activity are exempt from wearing face coverings outdoors.
Lee previously said the mask mandate should remain in effect until the warmer season arrives amid fears of a resurgence in flu cases.
Ahead of Lee’s official announcement, government pandemic adviser Professor Lau Yu-lung said the policy’s “long-awaited” lifting was “welcomed by all of Hong Kong.”
He expressed his support for the government’s decision to scrap the mandate in one fell swoop, arguing that the move would be easier to implement and more understandable to the public than a gradual relaxation.
Lau added that he believes people would wear masks on public transport without being asked by authorities. “We should believe in residents’ ability to manage their health and assess their safety,” he said.
However, the health expert said more emphasis should be placed on helping children adapt to the change as some youngsters have grown up wearing masks.
“It takes time to explain to them that it’s actually normal to be without a mask,” he said. “They might be anxious and we should let them choose whether or not to wear it rather than forcing them.”
Lau also urged residents to respect each other’s choices about whether to wear masks.
Under the changed rules in Macau, supervisors at most indoor venues have discretion as to whether visitors should wear the covers, while authorities there continue to require people to wear them on public transport and in hospitals and nursing homes.
Source: Crypto News Deutsch