Hong Kong authorities will maintain compulsory outdoor mask wearing “at least for the time being” unless there is a “significant” rise in children’s Covid-19 vaccination rate, Chief Executive John Lee has said.

Covid-19 children mask
File photo: GovHK,

Lee was asked about the city’s outdoor mask mandate by a man called Dennis during a Policy Address phone on RTHK on Friday.

“I think most Hong Kong people feel that they are wearing this mask to avoid a fine, and they are not really that concerned about catching Covid in street on a sunny day,” Dennis said, adding that most people were aware of when they should wear a mask, such as on the MTR, on a bus or in crowded places.

He asked the chief executive if Hong Kong could allow people to “make the choice for themselves” as whether to wear a mask, especially when they were just walking on the road.

In response, Lee said people should think about why anti-epidemic measures were implemented in the first place.

john lee policy address
Chief Executive John Lee. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Lee said the mask mandate was there to prevent Covid-19 patients who were unaware of their infection from spreading the disease, and to protect vulnerable groups.

“One thing that has been agreed by all the experts that I have come across, whether they are subscribing to their own school of thoughts or others… there is a very general agreement that the mask wearing should continue,” the chief executive added.

Lee also cited the recent death of a young child infected with Covid-19, and the case of another in a critical condition. “I don’t just look at them as figures of one or two. I always put myself into the position of their family, who [have] lost their loved ones,” he said.

The chief executive then said the mask mandate must remain in place. The authorities might reconsider it if the vaccination rate among children “has gone up very significantly,” he said, without giving an exact figure.

As of Thursday, more than 73 per cent of the children aged between three and 11 have received at least two doses of a Covid-19 vaccination. Additionally, 9.62 per cent of those under the age of three have been double jabbed.

Hong Kong recently expanded its Vaccine Pass scheme to cover children aged five and over, meaning that they must have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to enter specified premises such as restaurants, museums and libraries. The move was met with criticism from some parents, who called it “complicated and inconvenient.”

The city’s rule mandating outdoor mask-wearing came into effect on July 29, 2020. An indoor mask mandate was already in effect by that time. Since May, people in country parks or those who are exercising have been exempted from having to wear a mask.

People who do not wear a mask face a fixed penalty of HK$5,000, or a maximum fine of HK$10,000 if they are found guilty in court.

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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.