Hong Kong drops mask mandate after 959 days

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Hong Kong, Feb 28 (IANS) After it was first imposed on July 15, 2020, in the wake of the raging Covid-19 pandemic, Hong Kong has finally dropped its mask mandate after 959 days, the city’s government announced on Tuesday.

The mandate, enforced through fines that could reach more than $1,000, had required facial coverings in all public spaces, reports CNN.

The rule came into effect for public transport and was expanded two weeks later to include indoor and outdoor areas — though the vast majority of people in the city had begun wearing masks months earlier as reports of coronavirus infections spread, leading to panic buying and shortages as early as January that year.

The mandate will be fully lifted on Wednesday, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee said while addressing a press briefing.

“We are now returning to normalcy,” CNN quoted Lee as saying.

In recent months, Hong Kong has rolled back several other major Covid restrictions, most notably mandatory quarantine for all international arrivals in an effort to boost tourism.

Also addressing the same news briefing, Health Secretary Lo Mau-chung said that with the lifting of the mask mandate, “we have now removed all epidemic restrictions”.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a smile on everyone’s face now,” he said.

He however, added that the government still advises the wearing of masks in “high risk” settings such as elderly care homes and hospitals.

Most other places in Asia have either fully or partially eased their mask mandates in recent months, including South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

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