The Hong Kong government has announced the lift on the city’s mask mandate starting tomorrow, more than 2.5 years after the policy went into effect in July 2020. Under the latest policy, mask-wearing will no longer be required in both indoor and outdoor areas. However, a mask mandate will still be enforced in some designated areas, such as hospitals.
At the weekly media briefing session held this morning, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu explained his decision to lift the mandate with five key reasons:
(1) Data shows Hong Kong’s COVID-19 outbreak is under control with no big rebounds
(2) Hong Kong has built up comprehensive herd immunity
(3) No major outbreak among target groups in places like elderly homes, hospitals, and schools
(4) No serious mutation of the virus has been observed
(5) The peak seasons of traditional winter influenza and upper respiratory infection are ending soon
“With the masking requirement removed, we are starting to resume to normalcy comprehensively, and that will be very beneficial to economic development, our international competitiveness as well as our activities which involve everyone in Hong Kong,” Lee added.
In January this year, Lee has already hinted at his plan to relax the mask mandate in 2023, during a video interview with Hong Kong Commercial Daily– “It will always be my goal to lift all COVID restrictions in place, including the mask mandate.”
However, he also stated that the government’s initial plan was to consider the lift only after the winter influenza season ends. According to the Centre for Health Protection, the winter influenza season occurs from January to March/April.
“I think the first huddle we need to overcome (before lifting the mask mandate) is the coming winter, a peak season for upper respiratory infections. If we can overcome this, I believe we can consider how we can adjust the existing restrictions in place accordingly,” said Lee.
While the policy relaxation came earlier than the government’s initial plan, many Hong Kong residents do not seem surprised.
“With the rest of the world opening up, I think many people have been expecting the government to lift the mask mandate for a while already. So frankly I am not surprised by the news,” said Channel Lin, a 29 years-old Hong Kong resident.
The long sought-after policy relaxation closely follows the government’s plans to reopen the city with a full border opening with the mainland in January and the launch in February of the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign, which includes a series of promotional activities and opportunities for visitors coming to Hong Kong.
On Monday, the Macao government also made a similar announcement to lift its outdoor mask mandate, while supervisory entities of indoor areas and public transport can decide for themselves whether to enforce the mask-wearing rule at their venues.
“I am happy that I no longer need to wear a mask when I return to Macao. And I think if Macao is lifting its mask mandate, it won’t be long for Hong Kong to do the same,” said Wayne Ng, a Macao resident living in Hong Kong, before the Hong Kong government made the official announcement.
While many Hong Kong residents welcome the government’s announcement, leading microbiologist and government adviser Professor Yuen Kwok-yung warned the public to stay vigilant even after the mask-wearing rule has been scrapped.
“Because many of the elderly and those who are chronically ill have not faced any infection in 3 years, they might face serious consequences because they have lost their immunities. Similarly, you may also see more children under 3 in the hospital,” said Yuen during an interview with RTHK.
(Featured image: Matthew Cheng)