Anti-mask law needs time to be fully effective: HK chief
Published: Oct 08, 2019 10:24 AM

Photo: Chen Qingqing/GT

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday that the anti-mask law will need time to be fully effective after spiraling violence engulfed the city again over the weekend, putting more strain on the declining economy.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government enacted the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation, or the anti-mask law, by invoking emergency powers on Friday, which came into effect on Saturday, in an effort to quell four months of social unrest that has engulfed the city.

The city was lashed again by escalating violence over the weekend, as illegal protesters continued. 

Lam noted at a routine press conference that rioters' illegal acts have deliberately paralyzed Hong Kong's rail system, and the disruptions are severely impacting the normal life of Hong Kong people.

"The scale of the damage is now significant, heavily weighing on various industries including retail, services, tourism, catering and others. The damage might lead to rising unemployment," Lam said, adding that about 600,000 residents working in these sectors may be affected.

She noted that the hotel occupation rate was only 66 percent in August, a 28 percent decrease compared to last year. Meanwhile, the tourism sector suffered a significant downturn during the National Day holidays, as the number of tourists to Hong Kong dropped about 50 percent in the first six days of the holiday.

"The winter is coming," Lam said adding that every industry is now struggling and heading toward a downturn amid continuous social unrest, violence and riots.

She also said the government has no plans for now to enact other measures under the Emergency Regulation Ordinance and she and her team will find other solutions to tackle the current situation by using legal, political and policy instruments to restore calm and order.

No possibilities should be ruled out as Beijing could still help Hong Kong deal with challenges in accordance with the Basic Law, Lam stressed.

The introduction of the anti-mask law triggered unfounded concerns from Western observers. Hong Kong's last governor, Chris Patten, said he's concerned it's only a matter of time before someone is shot and killed by police during the ongoing violence, and that the chief executive "must be crazy" to ban face masks.

Responding to a question regarding Patten's comments, Lam urged foreign politicians to see clearly the nature of the current protests in Hong Kong and figure out if they are really "peaceful and legal" demonstrations and an excise in "free" expression, or are they unlawful, violent attacks. 

"If such a situation happened on their soil, I believe their countermeasures would not be any lighter than what we have taken," Lam said.

Lam said her government will monitor how the anti-mask law works and hopes that the Legislative Council will be able to resume its session scheduled for October 16. 

The anti-mask law will be discussed by the Legislative Council when it returns.