Wearing a mask while exercising outdoors has little impact on the risk of Covid-19 transmission, Hong Kong health experts have said, with one saying the mandate did “more harm than good.” However, a government official has said that residents must wear masks while outside or in contact with others.

children sports health
Children doing exercise with masks on. File photo: GovHK.

Hong Kong’s Covid-19 case count has been in a steady decline despite the Easter holidays and the relaxation of social distancing measures last Thursday. On Sunday, the city reported 429 new infections – more than 300 less than the 747 recorded the previous Sunday.

Speaking on a TVB show on Sunday, Ivan Hung – a clinical professor and the assistant dean of the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of Hong Kong – said the city had already built up a “natural immunity barrier” as the actual number of infections “probably exceeded 4 million.”

Hung said the government could consider speeding up the relaxation of social distancing restrictions in the next two weeks, allowing bars to reopen and cancelling the mask mandate for sporting activities and in country parks.

“When outdoors, whether you wear a mask or not has no effect… the rate of air change is even better than a negative-pressure ward, therefore the risk is very, very low,” Hung said.

Hung also said that the daily number of Covid-19 cases could drop below 100 in two to three weeks, as the count was decreasing by around 50 each day.

However, Hung said that the Vaccine Pass requirement for citizens to get the third dose of a Covid-19 vaccination on or before May 31 should remain in place, and that the authorities should ask all inbound visitors to be triple jabbed by the end of May, too.

University of Hong Kong epidemiologist Ben Cowling said on Twitter that outdoor masking had “minimal benefit” and he “would recommend rescinding the outdoor mask mandate as soon as possible.”

“Requiring masks to be worn during sporting activities will do more harm than good,” he wrote.

During Sunday’s routine Covid-19 briefing, the Centre for Health Protection’s Albert Au was asked whether the health authority would lift the outdoor mask mandate in light of Hung’s comment.

Au said that people “still need to wear masks” when they go outside or are in contact with others “in order to prevent infection as well as… spreading the disease to others.”

“For persons who have been infected, the natural immunity provided by previous infection may decline over time, so they still need to get vaccinated, otherwise they run the risk of reinfection several months later,” Au added.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.