Govt says social distancing measures may be tightened not because of COVID-19 epidemic but due to the rise of other new variants

Dr Libby Lee Ha-yun

2nd December 2022 – (Hong Kong) The Hong Kong government once said that it will not U-turn to tighten social distancing measures once they have relaxed.

Taiwan has recently canceled the outdoor mask order, and many experts in Hong Kong have also suggested scrapping the mask order, but Hong Kong government still insists on maintaining it. When asked when the anti-epidemic measures can be relaxed, Under Secretary for Health, Dr Libby Lee Ha-yun said that if the epidemic situation worsens, the government will not make a U-turn to tighten anti-epidemic measures.

As for the requirements to relax the mask order, it also depends on a basket of factors. However, Lee emphasised that due to the deterioration of the epidemic situation in Hong Kong, it is difficult to relax the epidemic prevention measures, but it will not be further tightened for the time being.

However, recently, there is another new variant in Canada which combines COVID-19 with influenza, plus RSV (respiratory syncytial virus infection) (emerging Omicron variants BQ.1.1 and BF.7 are on the rise in Canada), the government does not rule out tightening the epidemic prevention measures if the new variant is detected in Hong Kong. However, the tightening is not due to the COVID-19 epidemic or related to other factors.

Lee emphasised that the number of influenza cases in Hong Kong has decreased due to wearing masks in recent years, so wearing masks is still the easiest way to protect citizens. As for when it is time to relax the mask order, Lee said that there is a basket of factors that determine whether the public should wear a mask, including the number of confirmed cases in neighbouring regions/countries, the number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong, etc. It is difficult to use a single number to define when to scrap the mask order.