Hong Kong hikers have been fined by police for not wearing masks as police and undercover officers patrolled trails around Tseung Kwan O and Sai Kung District last weekend.

“We had operations over the weekend and officers issued fixed penalty tickets,” a spokesperson for the police told the SCMP.

Hong Kong is in the midst of its third wave of the coronavirus and as a result the government has issued its strictest rules yet. These includes a ban on gatherings of more than two people and compulsory mask wearing indoors and outdoors, even during exercise.

Many have complained that masks make it hard to breathe when exercising. There is also a petition circulating to lift restrictions on low-risk exercise. But so far, the rules remain in place.

Most hikers are ignoring the rules and a few admitted to keeping their masks round their chins, ready to wear when passing others.

Top trail runners urge Hongkongers to wear masks despite discomfort

Groups were gathering around the Little Hawaii Waterfall near Yau Yue Wan in Sai Kung last weekend, where hikers were without masks and in groups of more than two, when the police arrived.

A hiker called Alex [not his real name] told the SCMP he was on his way passed the falls, and had been forewarned as rumours of the police spread. But he always wears his mask hiking anyway, so it was not a problem.

“When we got there we already saw the police car on the road. Then we saw three guys with cameras and video recorders. They looked at us, but my friends had surgical masks on, I had a buff on. Then, we saw a guy coming out of Little Hawaii with a book, a book I think that was for recording fines,” said Alex.

“They were undercover, but from their faces, their haircuts, from everything, you cold see they were police. They were just standing together, watching people pass by, they clearly weren't tourists. People were already aware of their presence when I got there and had masks on,” he said.

The experience contrasted a meeting with the police just two weeks ago. Alex was running along the dam in Sai Kung. He had his mask a little down because of the added exertion when all of a sudden he passed a police car. His initial worries dissipated when they ignored him. Alex then saw another man not wearing a mask at all.

“I'm sure they looked at the guy, but they didn't give a fine,” he said.

Alex is as worried about being shamed on social media as he is about being fined.

“There are FaceBook groups and the aim of the groups is to take pictures of people without masks and criticise the guys. I have three or four friends put on there, so I don't want to be the one who becomes popular on the group,” he said.

Elsewhere, in the mountains this weekend, police stopped a man and woman without masks, and issued a fine to at least one foreign man.

What masks are runners using to train?

“I walked very hard. I just took off the [mask] at the intersection of the 20m small Hawaiian trail and took a rest. You can see that I can’t breathe. Of course, it’s unreasonable,” the unnamed hiker told Dim Sum Daily.