Hong Kong will scrap its mask mandate on March 1, Chief Executive John Lee has announced, ending the territory’s last major coronavirus measure after nearly 1,000 days.
Hong Kong followed China’s zero-COVID policy for much of the pandemic but began unwinding the stringent COVID rules last year.
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It hopes that the relaxation of COVID-19 curbs will lure back visitors and kick-start business.
“We think this is the best timing to make this decision. It is a clear message to show Hong Kong is resuming normalcy,” Lee said.
In high-risk places such as hospitals, administrators can decide whether to require staff and visitors to wear masks, he added.
Hong Kong was one of the last places in the world to require face coverings in nearly all public settings — indoors and outdoors — with everyone over the age of two required to wear a mask or risk a fine of as much as 10,000 Hong Kong dollars ($1,275).
Hong Kong’s relaxation of mask rules follows the lead of the neighbouring Chinese territory of Macau, which relaxed its own mask rules on Monday.
In mainland China, residents are not required to wear masks outdoors, although authorities encourage them to do so in indoor places such as airports and stations.
Earlier this month, Hong Kong launched a promotional campaign called “Hello Hong Kong” to lure back international visitors who have given the once-popular territory a wide berth since 2020.
Business groups, diplomats and many residents said the COVID-19 rules threatened Hong Kong’s competitiveness and standing as an international financial centre.