Hongkongers can ditch the mask after the Lunar New Year holiday next month and those infected with Covid-19 need not be isolated if daily infections return to about 15,000 in two weeks, government adviser Lau Yu-lung says.
From yesterday, most of the city's stringent anti-epidemic measures and social distancing restrictions - including the isolation of close contacts, vaccine
pass and arrival PCR tests - have been scrapped.
Lau said yesterday there had been an average of 20,000 daily infections in the past week, but he believed the outbreaks had reached a peak as viral counts detected in sewage samples had returned to the high level of the fifth wave in spring this year.
He said it was difficult to predict how long the plateau would last, but the daily caseload might drop to below 10,000 in two weeks at the earliest.
"If the daily caseload drops below 15,000 by the end of this year or early next year, Hong Kong could consider canceling quarantine orders for Covid
patients," Lau said.
"We need to make a U-turn in our minds by changing our ideas to prepare for the resumption of normality. We have to ensure cross-border people exchange, including allowing travelers to come to the SAR to reunite with their families and travel overseas for study and sightseeing so that the world will return to normal," he said.
Lau also said the mask mandate can be scrapped around the Lunar New Year holiday if outbreaks do not take a turn for the worse.
People also had to wear masks in winter in the past to prevent seasonal flu to protect vulnerable groups, he said.
"The mask mandate has the lowest cost but the highest efficiency. There is no reason to cancel it at the moment," Lau said.
Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau said lifting most Covid
curbs does not mean authorities are giving up, but "handing the responsibility of disease prevention back to citizens."
"Citizens are now familiar with Covid
and how to handle the disease. We think it is time to change the policy from the current mode of letting the government control the pandemic by handing the responsibility of Covid
prevention back to citizens," Lo said.
People should monitor their symptoms and make their own decisions on whether they should take leave or see a doctor, he said.
"We made the adjustment so that most people would not be affected by the anti-epidemic measures. We hope there won't be much anti-vaccine
and anti-science information to affect the elderly and children vaccination," he added.
The Labour Department said employers cannot deduct workers' annual leave if they don't allow close contacts to go to work, after the government stopped issuing isolation orders to close contacts.