Coronavirus – A Hong Kong Perspective

Coronavirus photo adopted from Johns Hopkins Medicine

Out of the blue, the virus has suddenly broken out in Wuhan.

It was the worse of time, as it was around Chinese New year when millions of people are heading back home for the festival. After the CNY, these people will be heading towards their work places too. This will spread the virus.

It was the worse of places too. Wuhan is in the middle of the Middle Kingdom. A busy hub with travels by various modes North-South and also East-West.

This means the virus can spread quickly in China and to Hong Kong and other places too.

Hong Kong, which suffered from SARS in 2003, was quick to become alert. People here still remember how they fight against SARS and what it did to social life and economy.

Some people went into panic mode; hoarding surgical masks, toilet paper and even rice. They know that there will not be sufficient masks – both on a regional level and on an international level. This panic has spread to other countries like Australia, South Korea and the US too. This reaction appears to be a normal sheep mentality.

Simple arithmetic will tell you that the 11 million people in Wuhan will require millions of masks throughout the epidemic. Millions more will be required by the rest of China, the world and the medical people who are the first line to treat and fight the battle against the virus. While China produces half of the world’s surgical masks, they will not have sufficient even for their own use.

Hong Kong and Wuhan are directly connected by flights and the high speed rail. The flight takes about two hours.

Hong Kong is linked to the neighboring areas of the mainland by ferries, the Big Bay Bridge and several border crossings which had daily crossing of people / tourists of 5-6 digits figure and lots of goods and supplies. These people include Hong Kong residents living and working in Mainland who may daily / frequently make journeys between the areas.

China was quick enough to lock down Wuhan, Hubei and some major cities, so that people movements from these areas to Hong Kong are stopped. Hong Kong did not close the border with China for worrying that some of its own citizens and goods / supplies are not able to enter HK.

By stages, the local government closed its connection with mainland China, only leaving the airport and the road connection by way of the sea bridges; even the high speed rail was closed. Supplies and food remain unaffected.

The worse for HK came when some 2000 medical personnel including doctors went on strike for several days, demanding what they call “more democracy”. This is unprofessional or even immoral.

What did HK citizens do:

Stay at home, work from home if possible. Schools stopped until further advice. Congregation of people stopped; government run public sports and recreational facilities stopped. “Social distancing” was well observed. The city almost came to a standstill. Luckily, the financial markets are not affected.

At home, sanitize the flats / houses. The exhaust from sewage pipes are known to spread virus. Pour water into the drain holes to keep the U pipes wet.

Contrary to many countries’advice, most people here wear masks especially in crowded areas, wash their hands and use hand sanitisers, no more hand shakes etc. Don’t touch your eyes, mouth and nose.

Surgical masks are not sufficient and not available in local pharmacies. Those on the market have their prices raised astronomically. Some masks are made locally by prisoners ( rewarded with wages) for the Hospital Authority’s use. They are not for sale to the public.

People started ordering them from overseas everywhere. In the whole 40 days, I didn’t buy any toilet paper, rice etc but I did order masks from overseas which left me somewhat frustrated in the process.

I ordered masks online from Amazon, 1Outlet of Singapore and a fake site aliexpress, which pretends to be Aliexpress. The first two refunded me my money when their stock ran out. The third one imitates Aliexpress and hosted 10-20 sites all very similar to Aliexpress.

I knew it was a scam the moment I ordered as they didn’t even give me a reference number and there was no way to communicate or stop them. The money was deducted from my credit card and they have all my card details. I was forced to terminate my credit card for fear that they still use those details. This created some inconveniences as some of my regular subscriptions were linked to the card.

In the meantime, the number of confirmed cases increase. Presently, it stands at just above 100, with two deaths and dozens cured and discharged.

Many of the confirmed cases occur in clusters; for instance, they met at places of worship or at banquets. The government has decided to use their super computer to track those who are suspected to be infected. This has helped very much with their tracking down.

Suspected cases which are negative or people who in close association with those confirmed patients are quarantined, for 14 days. Selfish people protested and demonstrated; not allowing those quarantined to be anywhere near their homes. Government then decided to use some newly constructed public housing flats to accommodate these people. In addition to this, government quickly constructed some hundreds of prefabricated buildings for their accommodation.

Meanwhile, the government sent three chartered flights to Yokohama to fetch those HK citizens who are trapped on board of the Diamond Princess which was berthed at Yokohama.

In the last two days, government has also chartered several flights to bring back citizens who are trapped in Wuhan and nearby areas. These people also need to be quarantined for 14 days.

WHO have praised China for their response to coronavirus. Recently, they praised HK and Singapore for the promptness and effectiveness in handling the virus. Hong Kong medical experts and personnel, as well as citizens are well equipped with the SARS experience to fight this battle.

For various reasons, some other countries like USA and Japan are not actively testing the patients for the virus, resulting in under reporting of confirmed cases. UK goes for a weekly reporting. This makes these countries less safe than perceived.

Does this affect my travel plans? Yes, very much so. We intend to travel 27 March to Kyoto, Japan to see the blossoms. Just today, Japan advises that all HK citizens travelling to Japan will be quarantined for 14 days and are not allowed to take the public transport. This kills my Japan tour and you will not see any pictures of the beautiful blossoms which I intended to post on this blog.

I have also booked my April flights to Amsterdam, hotels in Amsterdam, a Rhine River Cruise with one of the operators, I also booked the pre-cruise visit to the K Gardens to see the tulips and the post- cruise trip to Switzerland before coming back to HK. Again, you will not see their photos!

The opertaor now says passengers from HK will not be allowed on the ship, thinking that these people are virus carriers. In fact, in HK, there is only about 100 cases of confirmed infection and dozens have cured.

I can understand the ban on China, South Korea, Italy, Iran or maybe even the US; to ban HK citizens are just laughable as condition here is mild and very much under control.

It is even more unreasonable to ban Macau citizens from traveling too as they don’t even have one reported case of the virus in the last 27 days. All patients are cured and discharged. In my view, the ban is more related to politics, economy and other motives.

We can always plan to the finest details but it is the creator who actually give us His final plans.

So I am now left with the mess of canceling the flights, the hotels, the pre- and post- sightseeing. I will suffer financially too as some hotels / flights have indicated they can accept a deference up to a certain date but not cancellation and part refund.

The local CDC has today advised that we should defer our international travels as about 10 people has recently been infected overseas before returning to HK.

So, now I have all the time in writing up all these; something which is rare for me! It will indeed be a memorable experience.

The more severe areas of coronavirus lie within latitudes of 30 – 50 degrees north. The temperatures and humidity are said to be the main factors for the virus to propagate. The temperatures in the northern hemisphere will be rising in the next few months, hope this helps.

Well, I am sure coronavirus will be over, if we are lucky, by summer time 🙂