Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has invoked emergency powers for the first time in more than fifty years.
The city’s embattled chief executive announced the measure on Friday, in a dramatic move intended to quell escalating violence in the former British colony.
Ms. Lam told a news conference that a ban on face masks would come into effect on Saturday. The colonial era emergency laws allow the government to “make any regulations whatsoever” in whatever it deems to be in the public interest.
Many Hong Kong protesters wear masks to hide their identity to avoid being marked out for disciplinary action by their employers.
“We can’t keep the existing regulations idle and let violence escalate and the situation continue to deteriorate,” the embattled leader said.
Hong Kong was in serious danger, but not in a state of emergency, she added.
It’s hard to say how the government plans to carry out the mask ban, given that the city is a place where many of its 7.4 million residents wear them every day to protect against infection from the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Four months of anti-government protests have plunged the prosperous ex-British colony into its biggest political crisis since the inception of Chinese rule in 1997, under a “one country, two systems” formula granting it autonomy.
Initially, city residents were protesting against a proposed extradition law that sought to have people sent for trial in mainland courts. Later, the demonstrations transformed into a broad pro-democracy movement and a serious challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping.