Hong Kong’s John Lee has said he hopes all Covid measures will be dropped in 2023, including the mask mandate.

In an interview with Commercial Daily published on Tuesday, he said that a “full return to normal has always been my goal… I hope that there will be no Covid-19 curbs, including mask mandates.”

Chief Executive John Lee meeting the press on January 10, 2023
Chief Executive John Lee meeting the press on January 10, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Lee said he hoped “every problem will be solved” relating to the pandemic during the first quarter of 2023, though he gave no specific timetable on the compulsory mask order.

The chief executive added that the authorities would have to consider the capacity of the city’s medical services before allowing future relaxations: “We don’t want what we saw last March – during the fifth-wave outbreak – to happen all over again. Our healthcare system was overwhelmed, and because of that, the central government had to send people to offer aid.”

Nevertheless, Hong Kong once again has the highest Covid death rate in the world, according to Quartz. The city also had the most Covid deaths globally during its fifth wave, which health experts put down to low vaccination rates among elderly people, low rates of prior infection and an overwhelmed healthcare system.

Remaining restrictions

Whilst most Covid restrictions have been dropped, those failing to wear a mask still risk a HK$5,000 fine – a rule that has been in place since July 2020.

Last month, David Owens – a doctor and honorary clinical assistant professor in family medicine at the University of Hong Kong – told HKFP there was “no rational scientific argument for mask mandates, especially outdoors, at this stage of the pandemic.”

The city also enforces mandatory isolation orders for positive cases, with Covid-positive arrivals to the city risking a stint in a government camp unless they pay for a quarantine hotel.

Hong Kong has seen 2.8 million cases of Covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic, and 12,909 related deaths, according to the government’s Covid dashboard on Tuesday.

Additional reporting: Peter Lee.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.