One of many final main worldwide cities requiring face coverings on Tuesday introduced it would finish its controversial Covid masks mandate practically three years after it was enacted to forestall the unfold of the virus.
Hong Kong’s mandate, enforced by way of fines that would attain greater than $1,000, had required facial coverings in all public areas.
The rule got here into impact for public transport on July 15, 2020 and was expanded two weeks later to incorporate indoor and outside areas – although the overwhelming majority of individuals within the metropolis had begun sporting masks months earlier as experiences of coronavirus infections unfold, resulting in panic shopping for and shortages as early as January that 12 months.
The mandate will likely be absolutely lifted on Wednesday, town’s chief John Lee mentioned at a information briefing Tuesday – 959 days for the reason that transport rule was imposed.
“We are actually returning to normalcy,” Lee mentioned, because the Asian monetary hub launches a serious push to welcome again enterprise vacationers and vacationers.
Hong Kong has rolled again a number of different main controls in latest months, most notably obligatory quarantine for all worldwide arrivals, a transfer celebrated by travel-starved residents, abroad relations and struggling native companies.
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Talking on the identical information briefing Tuesday, Well being Secretary Lo Mau-chung mentioned that with the lifting of the masks mandate, “We’ve got now eliminated all epidemic restrictions.”
“I’m trying ahead to seeing a smile on everybody’s face now,” he mentioned. Nevertheless, he added, the federal government nonetheless advises the sporting of masks in “excessive threat” settings comparable to aged care houses and hospitals.
Most different locations in Asia have both absolutely or partially eased their masks mandates in latest months, together with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
The World Well being Group nonetheless recommends well being employees put on masks, with Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of WHO’s Covid response, warning that the virus was “circulating just about unchecked all over the world in the meanwhile.”
For a lot of the pandemic, Hong Kong held the unenviable title of getting a few of the world’s most stringent pandemic insurance policies – such because the strict quarantine, which at one level required as much as 21 days of isolation in a resort room, with no guests allowed and the home windows locked shut.
Authorities had argued the isolation interval was obligatory to scale back imported circumstances and stamp out native transmission – beforehand one of many benchmarks essential to reopen town’s border with mainland China, which had adhered to a strict zero-Covid coverage till it abruptly reopened on the finish of final 12 months.
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The masks mandate, too, drew criticism at occasions; in July 2020, in the course of the peak of Hong Kong’s humid and sweltering summer season, the federal government expanded the mandate to require masks even when exercising outside. It backtracked simply weeks later amid public outcry, acknowledging that folks had “shied away from exercising” because of the rule.
“Face masks have performed an vital position in decreasing neighborhood transmission in Hong Kong however now that just about everyone seems to be vaccinated and most of the people have additionally been contaminated, dropping the authorized mandate is properly late,” mentioned Karen Grepin, an affiliate professor on the College of Hong Kong’s College of Public Well being.
“Folks can now do their very own threat evaluation to find out in the event that they wish to put on one or not.”