I live in Hong Kong with my husband and six-year-old daughter, and like all Hong Kong people, the last two weeks we have been in semi-quarantine. Most of the time we stay at home, and avoid social gatherings and eating out.
If Wuhan's coronavirus (now officially known as Covid-19) had not taken hold in the localities through transmission between humans, we would expect to resume normal life in early March. However, it seems that the semi-quarantine situation will continue for a while longer. The most recent case is that of a family reunion of 19 people that took place on January 25 and left nine people infected. Until February 11, there were 42 infected in Hong Kong.
Since the incubation period of the coronavirus ranges from two to 14 days, and the latest findings revealed that it could extend up to 24 days, the epidemic becomes inevitable. The only way to prevent its transmission is to maintain personal and public hygiene, and reduce social contact. During the lunar New Year, the Hong Kong Office of Education announced that all schools would close until March. Universities migrated to virtual classrooms, and many public institutions and businesses allow employees to work from home.
The ghost of SARS
17 years ago, in February 2003, the first case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) arrived in Hong Kong from Guangdong. By June 2003, 1750 infected had been detected and 286 people had died. Almost 80% of infections were associated with the first case.
Although Wuhan's coronavirus is not as deadly as SARS, the scale of the outbreak is ten times greater, and because of the cover-up of the authorities, the outbreak was not reported to the citizens of mainland China from the beginning and, therefore, They did not take the necessary measures to protect themselves during the first stage.
In early January 2020, the inhabitants of Hong Kong tried to alert continental Chinese Internet users to the outbreak, but the digital patriots responded by repeating the usual conspiracy theories: that the people of Hong Kong sought to create panic in China to undermine The authorities.
The hongkoneses began wearing masks before the lunar New Year; instead, the residents of Wuhan continued to celebrate their great banquets and ceremonies of new year without any protection. When the stores reopened after the lunar New Year, the hongkoneses began to stock up on necessities in order to prepare for a semi-quarantine life, as they anticipated that the virus would not disappear until the middle of the year.
Our daughter's school requires students to wear masks every time their classmates have the flu; Therefore, we always keep enough child masks at home for two months. Coincidentally, my husband had bought two packages during a recent work trip to South Korea after the Lunar New Year, so we didn't have to queue for hours to buy them.
Because the coronavirus spread to other Asian countries, the ban on marketing of masks created a shortage. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that it was not necessary to use them unless the person had had flu symptoms, the population density of Hong Kong makes it very difficult to maintain the recommended distance of two meters between people, and in places like elevators, the distance is reduced to almost zero.
In the city of Macao, near Hong Kong and also governed by the Chinese principle of “one country, two systems”, a rationing policy was adopted to ensure that all citizens could buy ten masks every ten days for an amount equivalent to a US dollar On the contrary, the Hong Kong Government did not guarantee the provision of masks for civilians, nor the masks or protective equipment for medical personnel in public hospitals. The Health Authority has only one month's supply, and the Government has to ask for approval to import security material from Beijing, against the backdrop of an even more severe shortage in China.
Also, since the end of January 2020, alcohol-based cleaners, lavandina, rice and toilet paper are scarce in Hong Kong markets. At the beginning of February, I was in five supermarkets in my neighborhood and I didn't find a package of rice. Finally, my husband had to queue very early outside the supermarket to get a package. When I needed a half-liter bottle of lavandina for the usual disinfection of the house, I had to contact the councilor of my municipality to give me a free sample. In January, most councilors had approved a budget to stock up on masks and hygiene products to help alleviate the epidemic locally.
Let's save ourselves
The Hong Kong Government continues to ask people not to panic, but, of course, after prolonged protests triggered by the anti-extradition movement, few believe that the Government has the will or ability to protect the city or to put the legitimate interests of the people to the political interests of Beijing. The lack of supply of masks and their hesitation about restricting travel between mainland China and Hong Kong are very obvious examples.
In the eyes of the public, the Hong Kong Government is only determined to save itself, and the #SaveOurselves tag (港人 自救, ‘let's save ourselves’ has been used a lot) Twitter, Facebook and other social networks to criticize the Government and to disseminate information on protective measures, such as personal and household hygiene, how to make reusable masks and, even, a simple chemical formula to make homemade cleanser with alcohol, among other things .
With the idea of ”saving us,” people also sympathize with those who need it. For example, when I told my Facebook friends that my family was running out of rice, in less than 24 hours, two acquaintances offered me a portion of their surplus. Organizations with business contacts abroad help facilitate the provision of masks for local workers, and volunteer groups use social networks to ask people to donate their surplus masks for the elderly.
The decision to fight against the Government immediately became a decision to combat the expansion of the coronavirus.
The shortage of basic necessities and semi-quarantine complicated everyone's life. For families with children, the outbreak tripled daily work. Now we have to take care of our six-year-old baby girl 24 hours a day, pursue basic products, maintain the hygiene of the house and prepare three daily meals while we fulfill our usual work functions.
Also, in order to reduce the use of masks, we try not to go out frequently. With my husband we take turns leaving three times a day: In the morning, to buy bread and visit supermarkets and pharmacies; in the afternoon, to take the baby to the park for a few hours; and at sunset, to go to the market to buy vegetables and fruits. The park is almost empty because people are afraid of the transmission of the coronavirus among children. I received some friendly warnings within the parent groups on WhatsApp about the risk of taking the children to the park, but we still wanted our daughter to go out and enjoy a few hours of sunshine every day. We decided not to allow fear to take hold of us, even when the circumstances are frightening.
There is something that worries me much more, and it is the spread of fear and hatred in public discourse, as it can easily escalate intolerance towards continental Chinese. It is clear that the center of the outbreak is the city of Wuhan, and that several provinces in China are on the verge of a large-scale epidemic. I agree that the entry of travelers from the mainland to Hong Kong is limited and I understand that other countries impose the same restrictions on Hong Kong residents, but I believe that marking the Chinese mainland as selfish consumers of game meat and propagators Dishonest virus is completely indefensible, especially because it ignores that most of the travelers who enter Hong Kong during the Lunar New Year are local residents who return to visit their relatives in the continent.
The spread of fear and hate resulted in some extremist protests of the “not in my yard” style. Certainly, the Government did not make a popular consultation to define the isolation centers for people who had contact with coronavirus patients, and the inhabitants had the right to express their concerns. However, throwing Molotov bombs to destroy the facilities has no justification.
Hopefully, fear and hatred against continental Chinese will diminish as more human stories emerge from Wuhan and Hubei Province. Tragedies such as the death of Dr. Li Wenliang remind Hong Kong people that the misfortune that affects Wuhan and other cities in China is the result of the government's cover-up of the epidemic in the name of political stability above all else. Like it or not, the destinations of mainland China and Hong Kong are inevitably linked.
I already started talking to my daughter about the epidemic: First, I explained why she has to wear a mask when she plays in the park, and I told her that it is not only to protect oneself but also others, especially the elderly and Babies, whose defenses are weaker and resist disease less. Then, I told him the story of Dr. Li Wenliang and his arrest for spreading rumors when what he had said was nothing but the truth.
“Hold on to the truth and have empathy for others,” I told him. This is how we will save ourselves.
Visit the Global Voices special coverage on the impact of Wuhan coronavirus.