Chief Executive Carrie Lam has rebuffed concerns about her choice not to wear a face mask at press conferences, despite advice from a microbiologist and daily Covid-19 infections reaching an 18-month high.

When asked by a reporter why she removed her mask, Lam said the question was very personal but people needed to see her emotion: “This is not incidental, this is a well-thought out behaviour of the chief executive… People of Hong Kong have to feel what the chief executive is feeling.”

Carrie Lam on January 25, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Yuen Kwok-yung, a top microbiologist and government advisor, has said that leaders and experts should lead by example and wear a mask,

Lam has been seen removing her mask while speaking to the press in recent months, including during a briefing on Saturday after more than 100 cases were found in a public housing estate Omicron cluster.

On Tuesday, she said that Hongkongers need to hear her clearly: “The people of Hong Kong may even have to feel my emotions. Sometimes I’m pretty relaxed for example… but now I’m very sombre, very solemn, because I’m very worried – and wearing a mask would not allow the people to see for themselves… people need to understand and feel my feeling.”

“I want to talk to the people in Hong Kong [for them] to understand exactly what is going and for them to pull in their efforts to support this very important fight against the Omicron,” she said. “This is nothing personal, but is performing my duty as the Hong Kong chief executive.”

The wearing of masks remains compulsory outdoors, though not in private spaces.

‘Not that ideal’

When asked about Lam’s behaviour on TVB on Sunday, the microbiologist said that, as long as Lam tested negative and others were always wearing their masks, he believed the risk of transmission was low.

Top microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung speaks to reporters on January 12, 2021. Screenshot via RTHK

Nevertheless, Yuen said people should bear in mind the high airborne transmission ability of the Omicron variant. “If you do not wear a mask, it is not that ideal. Especially when we are experts or leaders, we must set examples ourselves – that is why I wear two masks for everyone to see,” he said.

Hong Kong has seen 13,395 cases of Covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic, and 213 deaths.