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February 2020
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April 2020

Not normal

Three weeks ago Hong Kong had around 100 cases of the Coronavirus, and only a handful of new cases each day.  The trend looked much better than in many other countries (with typically around 33% daily increases)

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Recently the daily increases have been more dramatic (15% on 18 March, 23% on 20 March), mainly because of people returning home from overseas.  But there have also been more locally transmitted cases, presumably because people had become a little complacent.  Most notably there have been photos circulating of large crowds in Lan Kwai Fong (mainly expats) with no masks in sight.   

There’s no doubt that people who stayed at home during the early days of the outbreak are going out more.  However, things are certainly not back to normal - the MTR are still running trains less frequently (and they are still less crowded than normal).  Many shops are opening later and closing earlier. 

Bars are still open, cinemas are mainly still open (but only alternate rows of seats are available for purchase, and there aren’t many customers).  One chain of gyms has closed temporarily, and the public sports facilities that had been re-opened a few weeks ago are closed again.  Libraries are also closing again.

So, life in Hong Kong is still much more normal than in many other large cities worldwide.  But not looking as good as it was 3 weeks ago.


Masks

About 6 weeks in, we are now up to 100 total cases of Coronavirus in Hong Kong.  We haven’t experienced any dramatic increases in cases, but neither is there any sign of it going away. 

The “panic buying” of rice, toilet rolls and cleaning products seems to have passed, and the supermarket shelves are full again.  Shops and restaurants seem to be a little busier than before, but life is clearly not back to normal. 

Everyone here is still wearing a face mask when they are in a public place, even though this is apparently a bad thing: 

'Seriously people - STOP BUYING MASKS!': Surgeon general says they won't protect from coronavirus

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.  “Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others."

Coronavirus: can face masks protect you from catching deadly virus?

Dr Jake Dunning, head of emerging infections and zoonoses [infectious disease spread between humans and animals] at Public Health England, told The Independent that there is “very little evidence of a widespread benefit” in members of the public wearing masks.

Ah, yes, the “deadly virus”. 

Want to avoid the coronavirus? Forget face masks, top airline doctor says

David Powell, medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association, says masks and gloves do a better job of spreading bugs than stopping them.  “There’s very limited evidence of benefit, if any, in a casual situation. Masks are useful for those who are unwell to protect other people from them. But wearing a mask all the time will be ineffective. It will allow viruses to be transmitted around it, through it and worse still, if it becomes moist it will encourage the growth of viruses and bacteria.”

And yet…almost everyone in Hong Kong is wearing a mask and the Coronavirus outbreak seems to have been contained.  Plus, there has been a huge drop in cases of Influenza (and similar infectious diseases).

Is it just the masks?  Clearly not.  People are staying home more, and taking greater care with general hygiene (lessons learned from SARS).  This addresses one of the common concerns about masks - that they make people complacent about the risks (much as wearing seatbelts  encourage dangerous driving). 

They’ve been doing this in Japan for a very long time, where it’s considered polite to use a mask when you are sick, and totally acceptable to wear one to try to protect yourself.  It was fairly unusual to see them in Hong Kong before SARS, but ever since they have become commonplace - and rumours of a SARS-like disease in Wuhan caused people to stock up on masks. 

Surely it isn’t a coincidence that Hong Kong has (so far, at least) avoided any major spike in cases.  We have seen how quickly it can spread (in South Korea, more recently in Italy and Iran, and the awful case of the Diamond Princess - where it seems that the lessons of Amoy Gardens weren’t heeded).  Wearing a mask and taking a few other simple precautions is just common sense.

But, people, don’t move your mask down below your chin.