By now we all know about social distancing, but in a crowded city like Hong Kong, that simply isn’t going to happen. Instead, what I have seen is that most people have continued with their lives but with a twist. At first it was hard to remember to bring a face mask with me every time I left my apartment, especially if you’re running late. If I don’t, maybe I’m not protected against the COVID-19 virus, but what’s more scary are the dirty looks I’ll get from my neighbors and people in the street for not wearing one. The masks are hot, sometimes smell, also a little suffocating, and overall uncomfortable. But because so many people believe that it is a necessary component in defending yourself against COVID-19, most people choose to wear and bear, instead of going bare.
Learning their lesson from SARS, Hong Kongers have been proactive about taking measures to protect themselves from the spread of COVID-19. In addition to the increased availability of hand sanitizer at reception desks and temperature checks upon entering any establishment, the starkest effect is the ubiquity of face masks. While masks in public may seem strange, they are a fact of life here in the fragrant harbor. Whether you are in a shopping mall or market, it may feel comforting to see other people wear masks, but know that this comes with the expectation that you are wearing a mask too. On the plus side, people do not squeeze in public transportation like sardines in a can or any other place. In the pictures above that is Hong Kong on a NOT crowded day.
While it seems like life goes on, just with face masks, it still feels like strange times we live in. People maybe don’t hang out in restaurants anymore but they go for hikes, albeit with a mask. In one of the most densely populated cities in the world, social distancing here probably looks like normal distancing for people living elsewhere.
For the record, if you normally don’t wear a face mask, it’s sometimes hard to remember to bring it with you everytime you go out. Actually, for hygiene reasons you should really be using a new one each time. And if you don’t, you will face consequences and peer pressure. I personally faced two instances when I forgot to bring a mask when I was out in the city. A [non-Hong Kong] guy even yelled at me as he walked by, “Wear [a] mask!” and when I tried to meet my mom at the Chinese acupuncture place where she was being treated, they told me I had to either purchase a mask from them (for HKD $5) or wait outside. Yes life goes on, but life without a mask in Hong Kong comes with a rude awakening.
But what’s the significance? Well for those who have not really worn face masks, let me tell you what they personally feel like: uncomfortable. What’s more discomforting is the fact that health experts have already confirmed that the masks don’t even work that well at protecting you from contracting the virus. The disposable surgical mask, the one most people wear, is supposed to be worn only once (which presents an environmental issue I might add) and doesn't completely seal around the nose and mouth, still leaving you exposed.
In fact, the only mask that is technically effective at protecting you is a specialized mask known as the N-95 respirator (pictured above), which CDC does not recommend for public use at the moment. But social obligation on the streets of Hong Kong would have you believe that wearing masks are better than no masks.