Hong Kong, one of the last places in the world to impose tight Covid-19 restrictions on face coverings, will drop its mask mandate after more than two and a half years.

John Lee, the Chinese territory’s leader and former top cop, said requirements to wear a mask indoors, outdoors and on public transport would be scrapped from Wednesday. The mask mandate has been in place since July 2020.

“With the lifting of the mask mandate, we have now officially removed all anti-epidemic restrictions. Hong Kong has fully returned to normalcy,” said health minister Lo Chung-mau. “We can all put a smile on our faces.”

Japan did not have a mask mandate but eased guidelines on mask wearing earlier in February.

Macau, another Chinese territory adjacent to Hong Kong, dropped its outdoor and indoor mask mandate on Monday, while Taiwan halted its indoor mask mandate in February, having earlier lifted an outdoor requirement on face coverings.

Hong Kong’s economy was crippled after the city was forced to follow China in imposing tight pandemic restrictions including at points a weeks long quarantine and a ban on tourists.

Along with a tough security crackdown which followed 2019’s pro-democracy protests, the rules undermined the city’s status as a financial hub.

Lee said the city would now attempt to rebuild. “We will focus on our economy and the city’s development this year and the next after resuming normalcy,” he said on Tuesday.

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