Thursday, February 6, 2020

Coronavirus Challenges Everyday Life in Hong Kong

Hong Kong
Locals stand in line outside a Mannings drugstore, awaiting a shipment of surgical masks.
Since Lunar New Year, masks are worn ubiquitously in public, and sell out immediately.
The unusual continues to be the new normal in Hong Kong, as everyday life is interrupted once again, not with protests this time but the coronavirus scare.

Seemingly overnight, nearly everyone wears surgical masks in public, particularly in enclosed spaces, such as the MTR (Hong Kong’s underground transportation).  The masks sell like mad, with reports of people lining up as much as five hours before new shipments arrive.  

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, nearly everyone wears surgical masks,
especially in enclosed, crowded spaces such as the underground MTR stations.  
The SAR discourages public gatherings.  Most Sundays, Central teems with domestic helpers eating and relaxing on their one day off; this last weekend it was nearly empty.

Disneyland and Ocean Park are closed "until further notice", and libraries remain shut as well.  Malls feel like ghost towns, and primary schools and university classes are cancelled for the entire month of February!

Corona Virus Outbreak
Since the outbreak, many Hongkongers choose to remain at home rather than eat out.  Yesterday, just a few patrons occupied the normally buzzing Paisano's Pizza in Tsim Sha Tsui. 
“It’s mad out there,” I spoke with a woman inside Rosary Church in Tsim Sha Tsui who said she had come inside for some peace.  It, too, had cancelled its regular Adoration, and had all the windows and doors open for ventilation.

This shutdown of the city began after the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, and subsequent spread throughout China over Lunar New Year.

According to latest report, 27,300 people in China have contracted the virus, and 560, or 2%, have died.  For comparison, in the first weeks of 2020, 19 million in the US have contracted the flu, and 10,000 of these (.05%) have died.

So the coronavirus is four times more deadly than the flu.  However, in terms of numbers, the flu has killed nearly 9,500 more people.   

Given the unusualness of this virus and the worldwide reaction, it's hard to not have some reflections.  Here are some of mine.

Fear Sells

Given the relative low number of deaths, I'm amazed at how fear of the virus has spread worldwide.  No headlines in the US are reporting that 10,000 have died from the flu in only five weeks--and these are local deaths.    

Friends from all over the world (Kenya, Portugal, Taiwan, the US and Jerusalem) have written to me, advising me to GET OUT.  

One of these people hadn't known anything about the Hong Kong protests.  But the terror of this epidemic managed to reach even her ears!

Fear sells, it's clear.  The media needs to continually churn out clickable content, and this virus provides wonderful fodder for generating hype.

It reminds me of the great exodus in Florida for hurricane Irma in 2017.  The hurricane didn’t turn out to be nearly as bad as reporting anticipated, especially for North and Central Florida residents.  Yet, the networks convinced millions to leave the state—the largest exodus, ever!

Conspiracies Abound

Given that this coronavirus is so unusual, conspiracies as to its origin abound.  It's a fake virus created by the Chinese, or a virus created by the US, who has exclusive access to the cure.  Or that a website momentarily posted the ACTUAL numbers of people who’ve died from the virus, and it's much higher than the official numbers.

Putting all conspiracies aside, the PRC undoubtedly sees a silver lining with the reaction of Hongkongers.  For months, Beijing and local police to no avail have tried to curb belligerent and destructive uprisings against the PRC, with local police using water guns and tear gas to try and quell the protests.  

Tsim Sha Tsui
A picture of Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, looking towards Victoria Harbor, in November of last year.  This protest coincided with the Polytechnic University cluster; some of the most fraught days of the Hong Kong protests.   
But now, with the outbreak, Hongkongers have shown a remarkably different affect.  Behaving like docile children, they proactively ostracize themselves and are committed to the shutdown of everyday life.

And, as my friend observed, whether this virus is natural or manmade, any fool now knows the formula for creating immediate worldwide fear and panic.

Exacerbating Xenophobia

Hongkongers are constantly making jabs at "Mainlanders".  “We’re much more civilized”, “Isn’t it great they aren’t crowding our city” (due to the protests) and “they come down here and defecate on street corners!” are a few I’ve heard.

Hongkonger’s hyper demands to completely shut down the boarder with mainland China is no doubt augmented by this disdain.

And the US exaggerates the issue as well.  Have we ever seen anything like it: American, Delta and United have cut services to mainland China, Pompeo has issued a Travel 4 Advisory Warning (the highest possible), and anyone coming into the US from China is quarantined for 14 days!

Go figure why the US would have such an extreme reaction over a virus that’s killed, in total, 560 people—when gun violence accounts for 100 deaths in the US every single day.  

A Quieter Hong Kong

It remains to be seen how long this situation will continue, or what the long-term effects will be.  The "experts" say it could last for 2-3 months.  No doubt retail and hotel industries are taking a huge hit.  

I’m sensing some exasperation in the streets, as fewer people seem to be donning the face masks on sidewalks and in grocery stores.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the quieter city life and empty restaurants.  It's probably not here to stay.


  1. It is so scary to know that the coronavirus is affecting so many people. Even I am trying to avoid heavy places in America at this time. Though, the number of people who due because of the flu is a lot, it is harder to treat the coronavirus. Xenophobia is real. I have faced non-asians treating me as if I have the virus. Like are you serious????? Stay safe out there!!

    Nancy ♥

  2. Yes, it's extremely unlikely you'd contract the virus in the US. It's totally ridiculous that anyone would be wary of Asian-Americans. The media has really hyped people up.


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