Even jumpy people suffering poor nerves and prone to wetting themselves are getting the jitters in an extra big way thanks to MERS. I didn’t realize until today – I’m a bit blasé about these things – that there has not been a single case of the dreaded Middle East Respiratory Syndrome reported in Hong Kong. I vaguely assumed that what with tourists being quarantined and Wednesday’s terror at Tsing Yi MTR Station, the disease was in town, among us, with death stalking the streets, etc. It transpires that ‘cases’ have tested negative. In other words, they have not been any ‘cases’, except of colds or flu.
But panic we must. The HK Centre for Health Protection – founded in a fit of being-seen-to-do-something after SARS – gets one of its rare opportunities to appear busy and useful. (So desperate are they to occupy themselves that they produce a ‘non-communicable diseases watch’.) Not content with berating us about contact with camels, its director is now warning that he will send Gestapo Thought Police to round up anyone spreading false reports about MERS, and, as an afterthought, he frantically begs us to be calm.
To encourage the gradual but steady build-up of alarm, we also read that Watson’s Your Personal Store has already experienced a run on face masks, thanks to quick-thinking hoarders grabbing the lot while losers line up to speculate in HSBC anniversary HK$150 notes. Needless to say, petrified travellers are cancelling trips to Korea, the Land of Morning Freak-out where certain doom awaits, switching instead to Taiwan (which by the way is closer, cheaper, friendlier and nicer).
For true hysteria to grip Hong Kong, we will need some actual cases of MERS itself, with grainy photos taken through distant windows of hospital staff in space suits and victims’ relatives confined to their homes. The city will be overcome with door-handle phobia. Radio announcements in Southeast Asian languages will advise domestic helpers to wipe bleach on flat surfaces every hour. Expatriate wimps will send their wives and kids back home. Koreans, who do not seem to have vast numbers of friends at the best of times, will be shunned as untouchables, and restaurants specializing in their native cuisine will be deserted and forced to offer ‘buy-one, get-one’ barbecue deals. It is possible that the stock market will plunge, and this will be the time to invest the profits you made on all those Watson’s face masks in companies exposed to airlines, malls, hotels and so on (Swire, for example), which after SARS doubled in value in six months. This is, needless to say, contingent on a collapse in tourist arrivals. Which would be bliss.
(Some thoughts on South Korea-as-Mainland – how cultural hang-ups and secrecy can help spread disease – here.)
I declare the weekend open with a quick farewell to a cultural icon. One of the best movies Christopher Lee was in is this…
And you thought MERS was creepy.