Hong Kong Plans to Use Emergency Powers to Ban Masks at Democracy Protests

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Hong Kong will use an emergency ordinance for the first time in more than a half a century in order to ban face masks at public gatherings, according to local media outlets including the South China Morning Post and news channel TVB.

The government will enact the Emergency Regulations Ordinance after a special meeting of the city’s Executive Council on Friday, TVB reported, citing people it didn’t identify. First passed by the British government in 1922 to quell a seamen’s strike in Hong Kong’s harbor, the law was last used by the colonial administration to help put down riots that rocked the trading hub in 1967.

A spokesman for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s office wasn’t immediately able to comment on the reports when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

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. 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.

The government re-evaluated the situation after clashes in multiple districts on National Day, Cable TV reported, citing unidentified sources. Authorities believe the anti-mask law can help restore order, the report said, adding that it would only target occasions like certain rallies and marches. Details were still being studied, it said.

Hong Kong stocks briefly jumped on the reports in afternoon trade, rapidly erasing an earlier decline.

“Now the anti-mask law at least gives investors some hope that it could be a way to cool down the protests,” said Steven Leung, executive director at UOB Kay Hian Hong Kong Ltd. “Some people could be worried about being identified if they can’t wear masks during protests. That’s why we see local shares rallying, such as developers and retailers.”