Hong Kong will drop its COVID-19 mask mandate, chief executive John Lee said on Tuesday, in a move to lure back visitors and business and restore normal life more than three years after stringent rules were first imposed in the financial hub.
The measure will take effect from Wednesday, Lee told a press briefing. The special administrative region of Hong Kong is one of the last places globally that still imposes a mask mandate.
Hong Kong and Macau both followed China's zero-COVID policy for much of the past three years. Hong Kong started unwinding its stringent COVID rules last year but mask-wearing has remained constant since 2020.
"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 said.
Neighbouring special administrative region Macau, said on February 26 that it would drop COVID-19-related mask requirements for most locations, except for public transportation, hospitals and a handful of other areas.
In mainland China residents are not required to wear masks outdoors, although authorities encourage them to do so in public indoor areas such as airports and train stations.
Hong Kong's move to scrap masks comes after its government this month launched a promotional campaign called "Hello Hong Kong" to bring back tourists and businesses which have steered clear of the former British colony since 2020.
Hong Kong had stuck rigidly to its mask rule, even in schools where children as young as 2 years old were mandated to wear them outside their homes. Many students and teachers have been concerned about the impact on learning and child development.
Students are still mandated to take daily rapid antigen tests to check for COVID although authorities announced last week that this would be scrapped starting from March 1 for secondary school students and primary schools and nurseries from March 15.
Business groups, diplomats and many residents had slammed Hong Kong's COVID-19 rules, saying they threatened its competitiveness and standing as an international financial centre.