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Hong Kong ends Covid mask mandate after 945 days to focus on economy

Hong Kong will drop its masks mandate on Wednesday, lifting its final main restriction to include Covid-19 as the federal government seeks to revive town as a monetary hub after greater than two and a half years of pandemic controls.

John Lee, Hong Kong’s chief govt, introduced on Tuesday that the measure, which was imposed in July 2020 and enforced with HK$5,000 (US$640) fines, can be scrapped so as to draw companies and vacationers again to town.

“We predict that is the perfect time to make this choice. It’s a clear message to indicate Hong Kong is resuming normalcy,” mentioned Lee, previously town’s high cop. “We are going to give attention to our economic system and town’s improvement this yr and the following after resuming normalcy.”

Hong Kong had grow to be a worldwide outlier on pandemic controls, solely starting to unwind its strict Covid insurance policies in December and sustaining a masks mandate far longer than different international locations within the area, lots of which noticed widespread mask-wearing even and not using a authorized requirement.

Macau, a Chinese language territory adjoining to Hong Kong, dropped its outside and indoor masks mandate on Monday, whereas Taiwan, which stopped requiring masks outdoor in November, dropped them for indoor use this month as nicely. Japan, which by no means imposed an official masks mandate, introduced that it could ease pointers earlier this month.

“With the lifting of the masks mandate, we’ve got now formally eliminated all anti-epidemic restrictions,” mentioned well being secretary Lo Chung-mau. “Hong Kong has absolutely returned to normalcy. We will all put a smile on our faces.”

From Wednesday, Hong Kong residents will not be required to put on face coverings outdoor in addition to indoors and on public transport, although masks will nonetheless be required in hospitals and beneficial in aged care houses.

“This step successfully [symbolises] the top of an period for masks in Asia,” mentioned Iris Pang, chief better China economist at ING. “We’re lastly reconnected with the world.”

Hong Kong’s economic system was crippled by Covid restrictions after town adopted mainland China in imposing tight curbs that included banning vacationers and requiring abroad arrivals to quarantine for as much as three weeks. Hong Kong’s gross home product declined 3.5 per cent final yr, its second full-year contraction in the course of the pandemic.

Together with a safety crackdown that adopted pro-democracy protests in 2019, the principles undermined town’s standing as a monetary hub, driving an exodus of companies, expatriates and residents.

Hong Kong’s authorities was initially gradual to impose masks sporting, having beforehand invoked colonial-era emergency powers to ban face coverings in October 2019 after protesters wore them to keep away from surveillance. Residents, heeding the teachings of the 2003 Sars outbreak, began sporting masks towards official recommendation earlier than the mandate got here into place in July 2020.

Carrie Lam, town’s unpopular former chief, even inspired officers to not put on masks at one level within the pandemic, citing provide shortages.

Hong Kong recorded 498,000 guests in January after dropping border restrictions and resuming quarantine-free journey with mainland China, in contrast with 6.8mn the identical month in 2019.