Coronavirus: the HK panic

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The Wuhan Coronavirus epidemic in Hong Kong has quickly pushed the organized and indifferent hongkongese society to its brinks.

As the extreme contagiousness of the disease caused fear of an extension to Hong Kong, people started panicking. Within a few days, not a single person took the MTR or walked on the street without a facial mask. Simultaneously, people started demanding for a closure of the border with China.

A masked girl in Mongkok
A masked girl in Mongkok

The mask hysteria triggered a crazy search for masks throughout the city, with stocks reaching all time low. Retailers bumped prices through the roof from 59 HKD to 500 HKD for a box of 50 masks. Fear of contamination by the coronavirus did the rest.

A masked lady takes a pic in Mongkok
A masked lady takes a pic in Mongkok

Panic at the supermarket

All of a sudden, as China started enforcing a lockdown on Wuhan, panic seized Hong Kong. Fear that a similar coronavirus-linked lock down would be enforced in Hong Kong, got people starting to raid supermarkets. During the Lunar New Year, around 28 January, vegetables literally disappeared from the shelves of supermarkets.

Vegetable shelves in a supermarket
The vegetable shelves in a supermarket during Lunar New Year.

Along with the vegetables, went the detergents. After another rumor that there would not be anymore toilet paper coming from China, people started hoarding toilet paper.

Toilet paper hoarding
Customers hoard toilet paper in a supermarket

At the same time, rice and some types of canned food disappeared from the shelves as well.

Noodles shelves are emptied in HK
Noodle shelves are emptied in panic buying in HK

This real hysteria around toilet paper took a surreal turn, when a series of news announced armed robbery for… toilet paper!

Fortunately, the booty and the perpetrators were quickly retrieved by an extraordinarily efficient Police. The city could go back to contemplating how to find its precious backside wipers.

Mask mania

Along with the run on basic supplies, another kind of run happened on facial masks thanks to the coronavirus. With prices running into 300-500 HKD per box of 50, many hongkongers were scouring the streets for facial masks.

It so happened thus that on 4th February, a Facebook post made the rounds. It announced the arrival of a supply of masks at a little known company “Luck Well International Holdings”.

From 14.00, the day before, a huge queue started forming with many people sleeping overnight in the cold. Each hoped to get the right to purchase two boxes of masks at a price of 80 HKD each. Only 10,000 boxes were on sale.

The queue is even more spectacular when you see a video of it (and this covered only part of it):

The queue seen by video

Nobody gave a second thought that such mass events are a major factor of contagion. This being particularly true when the human organism is being stressed by a night of rough sleeping in low temperatures.

Anger also swept the city at the perceived failure of the government to organize the mask supply. It must be said that for long, the HK government sought to ban facial masks.

Increasingly, people are protesting against the establishment of quarantine centers near them. This “NIMBY” activism has seen the Hong Kong protesters join in, as even pro-government supporters rise up to protest.

In 2003, the city had tightened ranks and fought together against SARS. Today, selfishness, egocentrism and dispersed ranks characterize Hong Kong. And one theme dominates all the others: fear.

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