Hong Kong is comfortable with most things that set it apart from others as a global hub, after nearly 200 years as a place where East meets West for business, tourism or a new start. The paramount exception is surely the Covid-19 mask requirement mandate since July 2020. There is widespread rejoicing that it has been scrapped from today, a week sooner than seemed the earliest we could hope for. It may be over, but it promises to be an abiding memory of one of the darkest chapters in the city’s history. The rule has been enforced for some 1,000 days. Along with social-distancing measures, it not only left the city behind places that had long since reopened, but also jarred increasingly with a flurry of government initiatives to reverse an exodus of local and expat talent, restore business confidence and revive a shattered tourism industry. The hype did not quite gel with reminders that everyone must still wear a mask in most places. To be fair, three months ago when winter loomed, things looked different. The city remained traumatised by a fifth wave of Covid infection that took thousands of lives. Health authorities worried that compliance with the mask rule and hand sanitation had coincidentally lowered exposure to and immunity from flu viruses, and premature relaxation of controls could unleash a wave of Covid and flu infections. Announcing the scrapping of indoor and outdoor mask rules, as well as on public transport, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said the decision was based on the local situation and winding down of cases of flu and other respiratory viruses. Face coverings will still be required at facilities such as care homes for the elderly and hospitals. There are reports Lee ducked questions yesterday on whether his announcement was prompted by the decision of neighbouring Macau to lift its general outdoor mask-wearing rules from Monday. How I mothered 2 young girls through Hong Kong’s long mask mandate Does it matter? Both cities found themselves slightly wrong-footed by the mainland’s sudden reversal of its zero-Covid policy. The important thing is to get it right in their own situations. Unmasking does not mean we can drop our guard. The city should reflect on two contrasting experiences with viruses of wildlife origin – the frightening months-long episode with severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003 and its death rate of one in six infections, and the three-year battle with the more contagious Covid-19 and its variants, which were more lethal to the elderly, the immune-compromised and those with underlying illnesses. Both tested our health system in uncharted territory. Lessons learned must not be forgotten. Authorities must not allow mask fatigue to obscure awareness that along with vaccination and hand hygiene, masks remain effective in limiting contagion of flu-like symptoms.