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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 comprise 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 government, introduced on Tuesday that the measure, which was imposed in July 2020 and enforced with HK$5,000 (US$640) fines, can be scrapped with the intention to draw companies and vacationers again to town.

“We expect that is the very best time to make this resolution. It’s a clear message to point out Hong Kong is resuming normalcy,” stated Lee, previously town’s high cop. “We are going to deal with our financial system and town’s improvement this 12 months and the following after resuming normalcy.”

Hong Kong had develop into a world outlier on pandemic controls, solely starting to unwind its strict Covid insurance policies in December and sustaining a masks mandate far longer than different nations within the area, lots of which noticed widespread mask-wearing even with out 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 outside in November, dropped them for indoor use this month as effectively. Japan, which by no means imposed an official masks mandate, introduced that it could ease tips earlier this month.

“With the lifting of the masks mandate, we have now now formally eliminated all anti-epidemic restrictions,” stated well being secretary Lo Chung-mau. “Hong Kong has totally returned to normalcy. We are able to all put a smile on our faces.”

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

Shares of Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flag service, rose as a lot as 2.6 per cent on Tuesday earlier than paring positive factors, whereas native cosmetics retailer Sa Sa registered a 5.2 per cent leap by early afternoon.

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

Hong Kong’s financial 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 12 months, its second full-year contraction throughout the pandemic.

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

Hong Kong’s authorities was initially sluggish to impose masks carrying, 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 carrying 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 about 499,000 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.