Lawmakers said on Thursday that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her cabinet would likely seek to pass an emergency law banning face masks.
Opposition lawmaker Ted Hui said the decision was in an attempt to curb the anti-government protests rocking the semi-autonomous city. Ted said that the proposal would likely be presented to the Legislative Council for a vote.
However, given that recent clashes have left the chamber under siege by protesters, reports have circulated that Carrie Lam may invoke a colonial-era law to bypass the council and enact the anti-mask regulation.
The 1922 Emergency Regulations Ordinance allows the Chief Executive to “make any regulations whatsoever which he (or she) may consider desirable in the public interest’’ in case of “emergency or public danger.’’
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Invoking the emergency ordinance would allow the government to quickly enforce a ban on masks, which have been a primary means for protesters to hide their identity and avoid arrest.
Over 269 protesters were arrested at protests coinciding with China’s National Day on Tuesday, marking the largest round of arrests within a single day since the movement began in June.
The controversial extradition bill that sparked the protests has been withdrawn, but the movement has shown no sign of abating as protesters’ demands have grown to include an independent inquiry into police violence and electoral reforms.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. It was promised special rights and privileges until 2047 under the “one country, two systems’’ agreement, but many residents fear that the arrangement is increasingly under threat.