Hong Kong’s leader has ordered government officials not to wear surgical masks except in limited circumstances, to save supplies for medical staff on the front line of the coronavirus outbreak.
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who for the second day in a row was not wearing a mask when she appeared before the press on Tuesday, said her government would slash its use of the facial coverings in response to surging global demand.
But medical experts said the approach was not based on any scientific evidence, while the city’s largest pro-establishment party expressed concern that her remarks would only lead to further panic among the public.
Lam also said that to protect medical professionals, a new electronic platform holding patient’s travel history would be created.
“We believe the government should take the lead, so we have issued internal guidelines asking all departments to follow this in wearing masks,” Lam said. “The goal is to save stocks for medical staff.”
Only those government staff who feel unwell, work in frontline services, or attend crowded places should wear the masks, the city’s chief executive said, referring to advice issued by the World Health Organisation.
“We look at all officials who are going to meet the media, and in their regular duties. If they do not match those criteria, they are not allowed to wear masks,” Lam said.
“I actually told them they cannot wear [the masks], and they have to take them off, even if they are already wearing [them].”
Lam said the media should consider adopting a similar approach as people using several masks every day imposed “a lot of pressure on an already tight supply”.
However, Lam was spotted wearing a mask on Tuesday morning when receiving petitions outside her office from protesters angered at her government’s response to the outbreak, just before she met reporters.