Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu announces the end of the city’s mask mandate at a media briefing on Tuesday. (ANDY CHONG / CHINA DAILY)
Hong Kong lifted its mask mandate on Wednesday, a move signaling the end of all COVID-19 curbs and which was enthusiastically welcomed by city residents.
However, some people, especially employees of high-risk venues and parents of young children, said they will continue wearing masks.
The long-awaited news was announced by Chief Executive Lee Ka-chiu on Tuesday before the weekly Executive Council meeting. For high-risk venues such as hospitals and nursing homes, those in charge can require their employees and visitors to wear masks by issuing administrative instructions, Lee added.
Hong Kong’s schools will follow suit by canceling the mandatory mask-wearing requirement, the Education Bureau said after Lee’s announcement. It later updated its health protection measures for schools on Tuesday. The rapid antigen test required before returning to school, however, will remain for elementary, kindergarten, and special school students until March 15. The rapid antigen test requirement for secondary school students was also lifted effective Wednesday.
Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau, who also joined Tuesday’s media briefing, said the government did not choose to lift the mask-wearing order in phases because partial retention cannot effectively prevent disease, and such a policy would be difficult to enforce in daily life.
“We look forward to a better tomorrow so that we can all put a smile on our faces and say, ‘Hello, Hong Kong’,” Lo said, invoking the name of the city’s recently announced initiative to bring back tourists.
During a radio program on Tuesday, Lau Yu-lung, chair professor of the Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine of The University of Hong Kong, said that completing lifting the mask order in one step is a “good thing”, and the government should trust and respect the choice of residents, who now can better protect themselves after three years of the pandemic.
Pang Yiu-kai, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, said that ending the mask mandate is “a shot in the arm” for the tourism industry, pledging to convey this information to the Chinese mainland and overseas to invite visitors to Hong Kong.
Peter Lam Kin-ngok, chairman of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, suggested the government continue to launch measures to promote the city’s return to normalcy, thus consolidating its status as an international financial and business center.
Leung Wing-hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Special Schools Council, said that abolishing the mask mandate can significantly help students who have special education needs.
For example, students with a speech disability can express themselves more clearly without masks, and children with mild intellectual disabilities can learn to speak better by observing their teachers’ mouth patterns.
School employees will also continue urging students to get four doses of the vaccine, Leung said.
Joe Chan Yung-chau, secretary-general of the Elderly Services Association of Hong Kong, said that employees of residential care homes for the elderly will still voluntarily wear masks to protect the elderly while residents have the right to decide whether to wear the mask by themselves.
Residents in the city were also excited about the lifting of the mask mandate. One of them was Caleb Chan, an 11-year-old sixth-grader. Chan, who has been looking forward to this arrangement for a long time, said he felt “super delighted” that he doesn’t need to wear a mask anymore during gym classes and while participating in extracurricular activities.
Classes without masks “will not be dangerous and unhealthy”, as many students have sufficient knowledge of the COVID-19 virus and have been infected, he said.
The same joy was felt by Ruslan, a 31-year-old Estonian who has lived in Hong Kong for 12 years and owns an online store with global trading orders. Ruslan, who provided only his given name, said this measure signals that future logistics and transportation services will be more convenient, which will benefit his store a lot.
However, Amanda Sheng, a mother of two children, a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, said she will still have her children wear masks to keep them safe, as “it takes time to see the overall pandemic situation in Hong Kong after lifting the mask order”.
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