One of the world’s last cities with a mask mandate plans to drop it

Masks will still be required in healthcare.

Hong Kong ends its mask mandate on Wednesday, becoming one of the world’s last cities to drop rules requiring face coverings.

In a news conference on Tuesday, CEO John Lee said residents and tourists will not be required to wear masks indoors, outdoors or on public transport for the first time in nearly three years.

However, masks will still be necessary in healthcare such as hospitals and nursing homes.

The mandate, which went into effect in mid-July 2020, imposed a fine of more than $600 on those who did not follow the mask rules.

“After looking at all the data, the trends and the fact that the winter wave (of flu) is coming to an end, to give people a very clear message that Hong Kong is resuming normalcy, I think this is the right time to make the decision,” said Lee.

For much of the pandemic, Hong Kong has followed mainland China’s so-called “zero COVID” policy, enforcing harsh restrictions – such as universal masking – in an effort to prevent outbreaks.

However, after China dropped several of its strict guidelines in December 2022 and Hong Kong followed suit, it led to a surge of cases not seen since March 2022, according to Our World in Data, which uses data from Johns Hopkins University.

Things have been going downhill for weeks. On Tuesday, Hong Kong recorded just 96 COVID-19 cases, according to the Hong Kong Center for Health Protection.

Several other countries and territories in Asia have rolled back COVID-19 restrictions as leaders appear to be shifting to an endemic phase.

In late January, South Korea rolled back face covering requirements for most indoor venues.

In addition, the Macau gambling hub said last week that people will not be required to wear masks outdoors, but they will still be required in nursing homes, hospitals and public transport. Indoor venues, such as casinos, may impose requirements at their discretion.

Hong Kong leaders hope the easing of requirements will help bring back tourists and businesses. Earlier this month, the tourism board launched the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign, giving away 500,000 free plane tickets in a bid to lure international travelers.

“Once the masking requirement is removed, we will begin to resume normalcy comprehensively, and that will be very beneficial to economic development, our international competitiveness, as well as our activities involving everyone in Hong Kong,” Lee said.

Lo Chung-mau, director of the Medical and Health Bureau, said at the press conference that he expects cases of the respiratory virus, so he expects the peak to be short and that it will have very little impact on public health systems.

“We look forward to a better tomorrow, which is March 1, so that we can all put a smile on our faces and say ‘Hello, Hong Kong,'” he said, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.

ABC News’ Britt Clennett contributed to this report.

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