Hong Kong to invoke emergency rule for face mask ban, TVB says

Students at Chinese University of Hong Kong protest outside the administration building to ask for a dialogue with vice-chancellor Rocky Tuan on Oct 3, 2019. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Hong Kong will use an emergency ordinance for the first time in more than half a century in order to ban face masks at public gatherings, according to local news channel TVB.

The government will enact the Emergency Regulations Ordinance after a special meeting of the city's Executive Council on Friday (Oct 4), TVB reported, citing people it did not identify.

First passed by the British government in 1922 to quell a seamen's strike in Hong Kong's iconic harbour, the law was last used by the colonial administration to help put down violent riots that rocked the trading hub in 1967.

The move would come shortly after a protester was shot in violent demonstrations that once again shook the city on Oct 1, as President Xi Jinping celebrated 70 years of Communist party rule in Beijing. The 18-year-old has been charged with rioting and assaulting a police officer.

Some pro-China lawmakers in Hong Kong had called on Wednesday for a ban on wearing masks at public gatherings to stop protesters from hiding their identity from police officers.

If the emergency powers were invoked, it would herald a dramatic escalation by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's government, which has struggled to control chaotic demonstrations that have raged for four months.

The law - previously denounced by protest leaders as a form of martial law - could give the government greater leeway to arrest citizens, censor publications, shut off communications networks and search premises without warrants, among other measures.

It would also permit the authorities to implement any new regulation the government believes would help end "an occasion of emergency or public danger".

The Hong Kong stock market jumped to one week high on Thursday after news of the potential mask ban broke.

Remote video URL

The benchmark Hang Seng Index, down for much of the day along with other Asian markets, rose over 300 points just after 0600 GMT (2pm Singapore time) and reversed all losses on the day in mid-afternoon trade.

A broker said the jump was due to news of the potential mask ban.

The Index was up as much as 0.6 per cent and at its highest level since Sept 24. MSCI's Asia ex-Japan index was last seen down 0.5 per cent.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.