July 31, 2020

New Social Distancing Regulations in Hong Kong: Cross-Boundary Travellers and Wearing of Masks


To combat the third wave of COVID-19 infections, the Government has enacted two new regulations: the Prevention and Control of Disease (Regulation of Cross-boundary Conveyances and Travellers) Regulation (Cap. 599H) and the Prevention and Control of Disease (Wearing of Mask) Regulation (Cap. 599I).

The new regulations both came into effect on 15 July 2020. The mask-wearing requirement imposed under Cap. 599I originally only covered public transport carriers and MTR paid areas. On 22 July 2020, Cap. 599I was amended to extend the mask-wearing requirement to all “specified public places”.

Cross-boundary Conveyances and Travellers

Cap. 599H now empowers the Secretary for Food and Health (the "Secretary") to impose, by notice published in the Gazette, conditions on travellers arriving in Hong Kong from “specified places” on cross-boundary conveyances.

By a Gazette notice dated 17 July 2020, the Secretary has listed the following places as “specified places”:

  1. Bangladesh;
  2. India;
  3. Indonesia;
  4. Nepal;
  5. Pakistan;
  6. the Philippines; and
  7. South Africa.

Inbound travellers from the above “specified places” or travellers who have stayed in the “specified places” during the past 14 days (the "Relevant Travellers") are now required to provide documentary proof of a negative result from a COVID-19 nucleic acid test upon arriving in Hong Kong. They are also required to have a confirmed room reservation in a hotel in Hong Kong for not less than 14 days starting from the day of arrival in Hong Kong.

Operators of aircraft arriving in Hong Kong with Relevant Travellers onboard are required to submit to the Department of Health a document confirming that each Relevant Traveller has, before being checked-in for the flight to Hong Kong on that aircraft, produced for boarding on the aircraft the above documentary proof.

The above requirements came into effect on 25 July 2020.

On 22 July 2020, the Secretary further listed Kazakhstan and the United States of America as “specified places”. The requirements for these two places became effective on 29 July 2020.

A health officer or an authorised officer acting on the advice of a health officer may (i) prohibit an aircraft from landing in Hong Kong if a Relevant Traveller on that aircraft fails to obtain a negative result from a COVID-19 nucleic acid test beforehand and (ii) request the operators of a conveyance arriving in Hong Kong and the Relevant Travellers to provide certain information, such as information as to whether they have complied with the conditions specified by the Secretary for Relevant Travellers. Operators and Relevant Travellers will commit an offence if they fail to comply with such a request or if they knowingly or recklessly provide any information that is false or misleading in a material particular.

For details of the conditions imposed by the Secretary, please refer to the Gazette Notice dated 22 July 2020:


Wearing of Masks on Public Transport and in Specified Public Places

Under Cap. 599I, during a period specified by the Secretary in a notice published in the Gazette (the "Specified Period"), a person must wear a mask at all times when the person is boarding or on board a public transport carrier, or is entering or present in an MTR paid area. Public transport carriers, which are listed in the Schedule to Cap. 599I, include public buses, public light buses, taxis, trains and ferries. In addition, during the Specified Period, a person must wear a mask at all times when the person is entering or present in a “specified public place”. The mask must be worn in such a way that it is covering the person’s nose and mouth, and touching the person’s nose, chin and cheek.

At the moment, the Specified Period is from 29 July 2020 to 4 August 2020. Given the present pandemic situation, it seems likely that the Secretary will extend the Specified Period.

By a Gazette notice issued on 27 July 2020, all public places (both indoor and outdoor) were classified as “specified public places”. A “public place” is defined in Cap. 599I as “any place to which for the time being the public or a section of the public may or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise, but does not include a public transport carrier or an MTR paid area.

The definition of a “public place” is broad. Even private properties may fall under the definition of a public place if members of the public or some members of the public are allowed access from time to time.

The exceptions to the mask-wearing requirement include a person who is under the age of two, a person who has lawful authority or reasonable excuse for not wearing a mask and a person participating in proceedings in any court, statutory tribunal or statutory board who is directed or permitted by the court, tribunal or board not to wear a mask. 

Cap. 599I lists some examples of a reasonable excuse for not wearing a mask. For instance, a person has a reasonable excuse if s/he cannot put on a mask because of any physical or mental illness; or not wearing a mask is reasonably necessary for verification of the person's identity. Whether a person has a reasonable excuse is fact-sensitive, so will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Any person who fails to comply with the compulsory mask-wearing requirement commits an offence and is liable to a fine of up to HK$5,000.


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