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Hong Kong to discuss immediate 'emergency' ban on face masks ahead of protests

Demonstrators shine laser pointers and wear face masks during a protest at the Yuen Long MTR station in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

The Executive Council in Hong Kong will meet for a special session tomorrow to discuss the immediate introduction of a ban on the wearing of face masks in public gatherings. Perhaps imposed ahead of protests planned for this weekend.

It would be enforced using emergency laws which were last used in 1967 to quash pro-China riots.

Called Emergency Ordinance Regulations, they would give the Hong Kong government the power to introduce a broad spectrum of temporary legislation in an attempt to end the current crisis.

Police fire tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

The reaction among protesters we have spoken to has been overwhelmingly one of outrage. One told us it’s further proof that they are not listening to their demands and just want to restrict their freedoms even further.

Another questioned whether the police would also be forced to remove the face covers they have been wearing. All of them agreed it would only trigger more protests.

Masks are commonly worn here in Hong Kong and across Asia as a means of infection protection. Their use became particularly widespread during the SARS outbreak in 2002. Banning them in public gatherings not only affects those taking part but all sections of society.

It’s unclear at this time what kind of allowances would be made for scarves covering the face worn for religious reasons. Whether their would be a clause specifying that the face mask was being worn for the intent of concealing identity. But even with that caveat the police would pretty much be given to carte blanche to arrest whomever they want.