HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defended herself against criticism on Tuesday (Jan 25) by saying she appears for news conferences without a face mask so that people could see how "solemn" she was when talking about the coronavirus outbreak.
A surge in locally transmitted infections with the Omicron and Delta variants of COVID-19 this year have led to the imposition restrictions that have made the global financial hub one of the most isolated major cities in the world.
Lam has been criticised on social media and by some health experts for not wearing a mask while asking society to follow the strict rules her government has reimposed.
Lam told reporters her decision not to wear a mask during media briefings was "well thought out" and that she wears one during other activities.
"Now I am very sombre, I am very solemn, because I am very worried. People need to understand and feel my feelings," Lam told a weekly press conference.
"I'm not going to smile to you or look very relaxed or casual. This is a very solemn occasion."
Lam urged people to avoid gatherings and family reunions over the Chinese New Year period at the start of February and reiterated that social restrictions are unlikely to be relaxed after the break as initially hoped.
The last time Hong Kong was subject to such stern restrictions was in 2020, during the early months of the pandemic.
Microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, one of Lam's top COVID-19 advisors known in Hong Kong for wearing face masks shaped like a duck beak, was quoted by local media on Monday as saying "when we are experts or leaders, we must set examples ourselves".
Schools, pubs and gyms have been shut, with restaurants closing at 6pm and many people working from home again. Additionally, very few flights are allowed to land and hardly any allowed to transit.
Hong Kong has adopted a strategy similar to mainland China, by aiming to quickly smother any outbreak and prevent infected residents from returning, whereas the trend among governments globally has been towards "living with the virus".
Last week, Hong Kong authorities enraged pet lovers with an order to cull more than 2,000 hamsters after tracing an outbreak to a worker in a shop where 11 hamsters tested positive.