Hong Kong’s Covid-19 mask mandate – in place for almost 1,000 days – was officially scrapped on Wednesday. And although some were glad to leave home without their face coverings, most people continued to wear masks.

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Inside the Smithfield Market in Kennedy Town, an HKFP reporter observed around one in 10 grocery shoppers were not wearing face masks.

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

When asked about the lifting of mask mandate, shopper Mrs Siu, 80, said: “I’m feeling good!”

“It was dreadful wearing a mask. So hot. I think we can’t be that scared of Covid-19. I have had three jabs already, and was infected once last year. The situation is much better now. I feel happy not having to cover my face,” Siu told HKFP.

Mrs Siu. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

A fish vendor in the market told HKFP he was too old to wear a mask. “I cannot breathe with my mask on, so of course I’m more comfortable without it. Still, I’ve seen so many people still wearing masks,” he said.

He added he did not know much about government policy, but was afraid of breaking the mask ban, which was introduced during the extradition bill protests in 2019 and remains in place.

“How do I know what would happen if I left my mask on?” he said.

Fish vendor in the Smithfield Market. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Another grocery shopper, Lestari, a domestic worker who has been in Hong Kong for 10 years, said she preferred to play it safe even though her employers did not require her to wear a mask. “I’m not sure if it is real that the pandemic really ended,” she told HKFP.

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.
The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

A group of migrant domestic workers in a nearby waterfront park, however, enjoyed a mask-free gathering on Wednesday morning.

J, Ren, Redch, Cha and Sol held their regular breakfast meetup, except this time, they did not have to put on their masks before leaving the table.

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

“I can finally breathe!” some of them said.

Cha, who suffers from asthma, told HKFP she had felt suffocated wearing a mask for much of the past three years. She was also excited about not having to spend money on masks anymore as most of their employers did not provide them.

“I [came] to Kennedy Town from Sham Shui Po this morning, and 100% of people wore a mask,” Ren said. Cha added that since most people kept their masks on, she felt safe removing hers.

“Bye pimples, and allergy,” Redch said with a big smile.

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Ms Chan was sitting by the sea on her own, wearing her mask. The 25-year-old told HKFP she was used to wearing a mask. “I felt more relaxed with my face covered,” she said.

She called her choice to wear a mask both a health decision and a personal preference. “It’s not just about Covid-19… I haven’t been sick in the past three years thanks to my mask. A lot of people say they feel stifled when wearing one, but I don’t feel the same way. So I thought: why not?”

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

“I think I will buy more masks when I use up all my stock,” Chan said, adding that she also preferred to wear a mask when she was not wearing makeup.

Mr Chan, another Hongkonger in his 20s, told HKFP that he would not take his mask off until more people went maskless. “Maybe I will take mine off when I get off work today, I’m not sure,” he added.

However, Wong, a 27 year-old Hong Kong man, said he was wearing a mask because he did not want to waste those he had stocked up.

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Coffee Wang came to Hong Kong from Shenzhen for a jewellery show in Wan Chai on Wednesday. Because she had not yet been infected with Covid-19, Wang said she was more cautious than the others.

Wang said people in Shenzhen, like Hongkongers, tended to keep their masks on, and she felt safer to take it off only when she ate or was alone. “Definitely not taking it off when I’m in a mall,” she said as she stood outside the IFC mall.

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.
The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.
The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

A man who gave his name as John Doe, who has been in Hong Kong for 50 years, said he thought that only a third of Hongkongers were not wearing masks compared to 90 per cent of foreigners.

The retired 76 year-old said he only wore a mask on public transport. “It’s about time,” he said, referring to the lifting of mask mandate. Doe told HKFP he thought the government had been reluctant to scrap the Covid-prevention measures, “because of China obviously,” and the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign may have been the final straw pushing the authorities to drop the mandate.

“I think more foreigners will visit Hong Kong because of the lifting of mask mandate. I don’t mean staying. Visiting and staying are two different things,” he added.

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Jan and Karla, 29 and 35, were visiting Hong Kong from Norway to attend a friend’s wedding. The pair decided to wear masks because they wanted to be respectful of local Hongkongers, Jan told HKFP.

“It has been three years since the mask mandate launched. It takes time to get back to normal. I saw mostly young people and foreigners not wearing a mask. I guess it is a process [for people to get used to not wearing a mask],” Jan said.

The first day without mask mandate in Hong Kong. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Chief Executive John Lee announced the end of Hong Kong’s mask rule during his weekly press briefing on Tuesday, which came a day after neighbouring Macau dropped its outdoor mask mandate and amid increasing calls from public health experts to end the rule.

While the Covid-19 mask rule has been scrapped, Hong Kong’s mask ban remains in place

The law states that anyone who disobeys a police order to remove a mask could be sentenced to six months in jail and a HK$10,000 fine.

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Lea Mok

Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.