It’s high time to drop all masks

February 14, 2023 10:22
Photo: Reuters

For Hong Kong to be truly back, we must go maskless – now.

Dropping the inane mask requirement is a necessary but insufficient part of Hong Kong’s trek towards normalisation. The following makes the case that abandoning all stipulations concerning mask-wearing is pivotal in ensuring that Hong Kong once again becomes a welcoming, hospitable, and genuinely embracive and immersive hub for tourists and travellers:

Firstly, we are way past the peak of the “reopening wave”. The much prophesised and hyperbolised scare concerning a surge in cases to go with the reopening, clearly did not materialise. Whilst COVID-19 has yet to disappear, it’s apparent that the pandemic is well and truly over for Hong Kong. It’s high time that our public health measures reflected this – not just in virtue of the (much-needed) removal of all travel requirements and restrictions, but also, through restoring normalcy to our day-to-day interactions. Japan is going maskless. Singapore has just gone maskless. We ought to do the same.

Secondly, masks are physically stifling. The thought of putting on an enshrouding across one’s mouth and nose – during the sweltering heat of Hong Kong – is as frustrating as metaphorically asphyxiating. This is a city that has long prospered off being the most open and freest city on Chinese soil for inbound visitors. The mask is anything but welcoming; given the imminence of summer, we must do away with these undue inhibitions, and embrace genuine freedom – a freedom to breathe without cloth covering.

I want to be very clear here. I am not a member of the anti-mask brigade. Should COVID-19 pose a genuine threat to public health, and should the prudential benefits of mask-wearing outweigh the impediments and inconveniences, I would be the first to celebrate and advocate strict mask-wearing laws. Yet it is clear that we are way, way past that stage in the pandemic trajectory. Mask-wearing – save from in environs where vulnerable populations are indeed present – has no substantive marginal benefits, given that Hong Kong has effectively attained i) mass immunity via inoculation and/or exposure and infection; ii) a broad cognizance of more sanitary public hygiene measures in the wake of the pandemic. There is little to be gained from mask-wearing, and everything to lose.

Dropping all masks NOW (in the middle of February) would send out a clear and unmissable message to all those who have been eyeing Hong Kong’s reopening with cautious scepticism. This city is well and truly ready to compete with and join our many peers, who have long jettisoned such self-destructive and futile public health measures, in favour of scientific and evidentially informed freedom. I firmly believe that the future of Hong Kong, qua hub for leisure, recreation, and tourism, could be bright.

Yet the brightness of this future is directly correlated with our audacity to speedily implement and prosecute the changes we would want to see. Mask requirements not only hinder our efforts at re-normalising – they are also a fundamental, normative threat to the ethos of pragmatism that has served Hong Kong so well, for so long. Let’s bin the masks (or recycle them, if you will); let’s drop such inane requirements, and let Hong Kong thrive once more!

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Assistant Professor, HKU