Hong Kong’s mask mandate will be completely scrapped on Wednesday, Chief Executive John Lee has announced, bringing an end to the city's final anti-Covid measure as it emerges from the pandemic.
Addressing reporters ahead of the Executive Council meeting, Lee said high-risk facilities or organisations, such as hospitals and elderly homes, can still ask people entering the premises to mask up at their discretion.
However, he said there would be no gradual easing back – and the mask mandate for all indoor and outdoor places would be done away with at the same time.
“I have always told people that I will be monitoring the situation for Hong Kong in regard to the total number of infected cases, the overall trend and the different data that indicate the situation of Covid in Hong Kong,” he said. “And it is because of the overall assessment of all the factors that have been taken into account… that I made the decision.”
Lee noted that there hasn’t been a big rebound in the number of Covid cases here, nor have there been any mass outbreaks at high-risk places such as elderly homes or schools. Add to that the fast-approaching end to the winter flu season, he explained, and that set the ground for a comprehensive scrapping of the mask rule.
“With the masking requirement removed, we are starting to resume to normalcy comprehensively and that will be very beneficial to the economic development, international competitiveness, as well as our activities which involve everyone in Hong Kong,” Lee said.
He added that authorities will continue to keep close tabs on the Covid situation to ensure that the pandemic remains under control.
Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau, for his part, said scrapping the mandate partially would be difficult to enforce and bring inconvenience to the people.
"The complete lifting of the mask mandate means an official end to all of our social distancing measures... We look forward to tomorrow, March 1, being a better day," Lo said.
On the future of isolation facilities, the government said it is looking into keeping such sites or using them for other purposes.
Vijay Dhanasekaran, an associate professor from the University of Hong Kong's School of Public Health, welcomed the announcement, but cautioned that the government should continue to monitor the elderly population closely.
“We are at that stage where we don’t have to be particularly concerned about Covid-19 but having said that, we still have the highest mortality rate among the elderly due to Covid-19, and that’s something that most governments and public health agencies need to focus on,” he told RTHK's Backchat programme.
Last updated: 2023-02-28 HKT 11:09