Protests popped up across Hong Kong on Friday afternoon and shopping malls closed early after the government announced it is invoking a colonial-era emergency law to ban the wearing of face masks at any protests starting at midnight.

Protesters had gathered in Central since lunch-time, and the crowds grew in the late afternoon as students joined in after school.

Streets surrounding Exchange Square, including Connaught Road, were occupied by large crowds of demonstrators.

“I think it’s actually violating the rights of people to protect themselves in rallies and protests”, one protester said.

Another slammed the decision, saying “I don’t think it will stop the protests. Instead, the government is repeating the mistake and it will just escalate the situation.”

Citizens are already extremely discontented, but then Carrie Lam… didn’t have any solutions to solve the problem, instead, she created another problem now”, he added.

One woman agreed that the new law – under which violators can be jailed for a year, and six more months on top of that if they refuse to comply with police orders to remove their masks – won’t deter people from taking to the streets with their faces covered.

“I don’t think it will scare the people of Hong Kong. If you put more and more pressure… to Hong Kong people, they will reject and stand up against you”, she said.

At one point, a national flag was seen burning on Man Yiu street by Exchange Square.

People also tore down a massive banner commemorating the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China from a footbridge, and set fire to it.

Some protesters sprayed graffiti and used objects to hit the shutters of a Yoshinoya outlet in the same area.

The Japanese fast-food chain had angered protesters by speaking out against the anti-extradition demonstrations earlier.

Many shops and malls in the area, including IFC and Pacific Place, closed down early.

A ‘flash mob’ of protesters also temporarily blocked roads in Kowloon Tong, setting up makeshift barriers on Waterloo Road at the start of the evening rush hour before other people took it upon themselves to remove the debris.

Meanwhile, crowds of protesters gathered at the APM mall in Kwun Tong and at New Town Plaza in Shatin to express their discontent by chanting slogans and singing anti-extradition songs.

Last updated: 2019-10-04 HKT 18:20