Editorial : Mask Mandate Drop Brings Back Smiles

【明報專訊】The mask mandate has been dropped today (1 March), 959 days since it was imposed. This marks the end of all social distancing measures in Hong Kong and an official resumption of complete normality. After more than three years of hardship in fighting the pandemic, people can finally show their smiles as they please.

One may have mixed feelings looking back at the masked times of the pandemic — from the initial panic buying of face masks, when it was hard to find even one, to later when people wearing it every day became part of daily life. Now that the mask mandate is over, people more or less have to readapt. Over the past few years, because of the protection offered by masks, young children, the old and the weak have had less exposure to common respiratory viruses. When masks are off, their chances of contracting diseases may increase and the condition of their sicknesses may also be more serious, so people should remain on guard. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly raised the public's health awareness. Even though the post-pandemic era has arrived, some good hygiene habits should be upheld. The related publicity and education work should not be terminated abruptly.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic draws to an end, many places in East Asia have successively announced the withdrawal of mask-wearing requirements recently. By contrast, the SAR government still published a gazette last week to extend the mask mandate until the middle of this month. It was only after Macao recently decided to scrap the mask mandate starting this Monday that the Hong Kong government made haste to announce the axing of all mandatory indoor and outdoor mask-wearing requirements starting today (1 March). Except for certain high-risk venues (such as hospitals and residential care homes), where staff and visitors still need to follow the "administrative requirement" of mask-wearing, whether to mask up or not in other venues is purely a personal choice.

The complete cancellation of the mask mandate symbolises the official end of all social distancing measures in Hong Kong. Today is a watershed moment for Hong Kong as it officially enters the post-pandemic era. Of course, as the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) declared by the World Health Organisation has not ended, the SAR government still has to monitor the spread of the coronavirus. There is also some follow-up work that needs to be done. The government should decide as soon as possible how much longer must primary school students continue to do rapid antigen tests, how to handle community isolation facilities and mobile cabin hospitals, and whether sewage testing is still worth spending money on.

Since the coronavirus is not going away, the authorities should plan early on how they will arrange COVID and flu vaccinations before winter for people in need. During the pandemic, people have saved many anti-epidemic items such as face masks and rapid antigen test kits. To reduce waste, the authorities may consider working with non-governmental organisations to set up recycling channels.

For some people, aside from lowering the chance of contracting the virus, face masks offer a sense of security. Even though the city has come out of the shadow of the pandemic, many families will still likely regard face masks as an "essential household item". Equally, it is expected that some citizens will respond to the call of experts and wear masks while taking public transport.

One cannot rule out the possibility of occasional disputes among citizens regarding issues like "not wearing a mask and paying no attention to hygiene". There may also be cases of someone being given strange looks for insisting on wearing a mask on certain occasions. Citizens should treat the question of others wearing or not wearing a mask neutrally and sensibly.

While the mask mandate lifting marks the city's full return to normality, it is also a suitable time to launch an independent review of the government's anti-epidemic response. The government should not find excuses and evade the issue.

明報社評2023.03.01:口罩令撤銷重現歡顏 良好衛生習慣莫淡忘











gazette : a newspaper published by an official organisation

watershed : an event or a period of time that marks an important change

evade : to avoid dealing with or talking about sth

上 / 下一篇新聞