The first few days of Hong Kong’s mask ban came with “complications and misunderstandings” but it would be too early to doubt its effectiveness, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.
Lam’s comments came after sustained clashes between protesters and police over the holiday weekend. However, it was not a sign that the new regulation failed, she told reporters before her Executive Council meeting.
“When I announced the [mask ban] on Friday, I said it had at least two purposes: the first is to help the police to identify individuals and enforce the law,” Lam said. “The second – which I think is more important – is its deterrent effect.”
“We don’t want people to believe that they can recklessly break the law, just because they wear a mask to hide their identity. This is especially the case for young people.”
Asked about an incident in which a police officer forcibly removed a journalist’s respirator, Lam said that the ban exempts reporters and other people who wore face-coverings in connection to their employment.
“In enforcing this new piece of legislation, of course, there will be some complications and misunderstandings, especially when the anti-mask law has provided for some legitimate defences and exemptions,” she said.
On Friday, the chief executive invoked the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO) that grants her and her council of advisors wide-ranging powers to “make regulations on occasions of emergency or public danger.”
Top government advisor Ip Kwok-him previously said the administration would not rule out using the ERO to control the internet, but Lam appeared to allay concerns on Tuesday.
She said in Cantonese that the government “has no plan for now” to use emergency legislation beyond the current mask ban, but responding to a similar question in English, Lam gave no clear answer.
“The only prerequisite or condition is to achieve the objective of ending violence, and restore law and order in Hong Kong. But of course, that is a matter of degree,” she said. “When we would judge that we need to invoke the ERO is not something I can say categorically now.”
Lam also condemned protesters who targeted the railway system and shops, which she said created a “climate of fear.” She also said that vigilantism was unacceptable regardless of any clashes or disputes.
The unrest over the weekend came as thousands marched peacefully in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, the vast majority wearing masks of some description.
Hong Kong legislature is expected to convene again on October 16, which will also see Lam delivering her policy address. Lam said that she has “planned some alternatives” in case the Legislative Council Complex was unavailable.
Protesters on July 1 stormed the legislature and vandalised its halls. Responding to reports that she may switch to a different venue, Lam said that the issue was not something she could determine on her own.
Since June, large-scale peaceful protests against a bill that would have enabled extraditions to China have evolved into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment, democracy and alleged police brutality. On Tuesday, Lam said she would not rule out asking Beijing to intervene if the situation worsens.
US President Donald Trump on Monday urged a “humane solution” in Hong Kong but noted that the crowds protesting against Chinese authorities were smaller than before.
“We just want to see a humane solution,” Trump said in comments to reporters. “I think they have to do that in a peaceful manner.”
He remarked on the “great people over there” and said “they’re flying the American flag.”
But Trump avoided expressing support for the protesters’ unprecedented show of defiance against Chinese communist rule and questioned whether they were losing steam.
At the start, “I saw two million people. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Trump said. “The crowd size is much smaller now, so maybe that’s saying something.”
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