Police have banned Hong Kong’s annual march commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre, citing public health concerns amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to a Now News report on Sunday evening, police have rejected the application for the May 31 march. Police said the march violates the current ban that forbids gatherings of larger than eight people. It added that the city’s response level to COVID-19 remains at “emergency”, and that the march could increase the risk of the public being infected by the virus.

Hong Kong Alliance, the organizer of the march, said they will appeal against the ban.

Since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, thousands have marched every year on the Sunday before the June 4 vigil in Victoria Park to commemorate the bloody crackdown. According to reports, hundreds or even thousands of student protestors in Beijing were killed when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) rolled tanks into the public square during a political demonstration.

On Tuesday, authorities extended the ban on gatherings larger than eight people to June 4 even as gyms and salons have reopened, and students prepare to resume class in stages next Wednesday. The extension prompted criticism that the government is using public health measures as a pretext to forbid political activities.

Authorities refuted the allegations in a statement published Wednesday. “The Government has introduced statutory restrictions on group gatherings in public places with a view to reducing risks of virus transmission. No political considerations have ever come into play,” the statement said, adding that “the conditions are not present” to allow “full relaxation [of restrictions].”

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As it stands, the annual June 4 candlelight vigil—which normally draws tens of thousands to Victoria Park—is also set to be rejected. The chairman of Hong Kong Alliance Lee Cheuk-yan said the group may instead organize small vigils around the city.

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