Hero unmasked

Just as FedEx are delivering precious expats’ US$200 shipments of toilet paper, more and more Hongkongers are finding the stuff in their local supermarkets, while those who have hoarded six months’ worth of it in their tiny apartments are offering to offload some onto friends. 

But lining up for scarce masks is still a thing. This is inevitable: if everyone in Hong Kong used these items correctly – disposing of them after eating, etc – we would easily go through 10 million a day, and the global supplies simply aren’t there. As it is, many people must be re-using them, which is icky and surely creates more hygiene risks than it reduces.

The WHO and other authorities say that wearing basic surgical masks is pretty pointless in such circumstances as walking on the street or sitting in an average workplace. Our local health experts advise wearing them, apparently out of caution. Some avid mask-wearers get quite irate about passers-by with naked faces. (People with kids seem to be more frantic about the things, which is perhaps understandable.)

Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Welfare Secretary CK Law incur public wrath for not wearing them all the time, even though this is one of the rare occasions they are being logical. Like them, I carry one in case I find myself in a serious crowd – which is virtually never. (Luckily, I can walk to work. I might be drawing on my little stockpile if I had to take a cramped bus.)

The reality is that masks primarily make people feel safe and so serve as a talisman. We are also told that wearing them is a sign of ‘social solidarity’ or a courtesy.

Handing out masks has become akin to the most noble alms-giving, especially if the donors are not pro-democrats. Criminals are making money out of mask scams.

Thus it is that the Company Gwailo yesterday became the hero of the office after he turned down his weekly ration of masks (sourced through Overseas Chinese tycoon-family networks, but will last only until early March). I said I have enough (a couple of dozen) in case of real need, and we should save them – and wash our hands a lot. The admin flunky looked at me in wonderment, as if I was telling him he and the secretaries could have my year-end bonus. Receptionists and junior accountants are now gazing adoringly at me in awe of my spirit of self-sacrifice. 

The author repairing colleagues’ masks yesterday

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23 Responses to Hero unmasked

  1. Hamantha says:


    “The reality is that masks primarily make people feel safe and so serve as a talisman. We are also told that wearing them is a sign of ‘social solidarity’ or a courtesy.”

    For a virus as virulent as COVID-19 that spreads asymptomatically and is thought to transfer from person to person from actions as common as conversing with an asymptomatic individual at close range, I would argue that wearing a mask is more than just a courtesy. On the contrary, I would argue that people choosing not to wear a mask in public is a combination of ignorant and selfish, and maybe a dash of too-cool-contrarian.

    Even if the above turns out to be false, what is undeniable is that masks generally reduce the amount of times that a person will touch their face, which is the primary means of viral transmission.

  2. Revolution says:

    I recall that when one of the Government medical people gave a press conference without a mask early on in this crisis and said it wasn’t necessary to wear one as a matter of course (which seems to be the scientific consensus) the press skewered him for that, and so they started wearing masks at the press conferences.

    Cod science beats actual science.

  3. Boris Badanov says:

    @hamantha. Emphatically disagree. Masks are uncomfortable and hard to breathe through, especially the truly more effective ones. They if anything increase the likelihood of people adjusting their mask so touching the outside which if you believe the hype is the dangerous side and increase the likelihood of people touching their face. Doubly so when no one wears them properly. They’re a collective societal comfort blanket and a false one at that. People have to stop freaking out about this virus, view it rationally in light of proper epidemiological advice and get back to their lives rather than acting as if it’s the end of the world as we know it. Take some simple precautions like washing your hands and stay home if you have a fever after you’ve seen a doctor. The rest is dubious if not irrational rubbish.

  4. old git says:

    Next week’s HK Budget speech will indicate that the takings of the HK Government will be way down for several years.

    That means that first call on taxpayer money – civil service payroll and pensions – is going to looked at and certain conclusions drawn.

    One might well be that the 1,000 persons required, they said last year, to administer LegCo, are redundant.

    It is an open question as to if the civil service will be required to fulfill its motto “Serving The Community” and take a pay cut to help balance the books which is required by the Basic Law and common decency, to boot.

    Forcing private language schools to close is also contributing to losses all round and is an example of muddled thinking. Why not also force all businesses to close?

  5. Hamantha says:


    Masks of the cheap, non-fitted variety so common in Hong Kong are best meant to keep symptomatic and asymptomic individuals from spreading their infections outward, rather than protecting external viruses from infecting the indivudal wearing the mask.

    Therefore, unless you’re in a hospital or other environment where people are coughing and sneezing in your direction at close range (wherein one may suspect the virus is coming in contact with the outside of your mask), it is instead the inside of the mask which is the important not to touch.

    Once again, the vast majority of masks in circulation are not meant to protect the wearer from the disease, but rather protect everyone else from the wearer who may, unknowningly, be infected, especially given the growing evidence that this thing can and does spread asymptomatically. Hence, why wearing a mask is the conscientous thing to do.

    I also disagree with your take on the severity of this disease, but I’ll refrain from continuing on with a wall of text. Suffice it to say, I don’t think washing hands, asking people to voluntarily self-quarantine for 2-3 weeks (especially in an unguarded environment), and encouring a general “return to normalcy”will prove effective in stifling this outbreak.

  6. Big Al says:

    Results of CUHK Medicine’s “Community Response During the Early Phase of the COVID-19 Outbreak in Hong Kong” study were released yesterday. Very timely.

    To investigate the risk perception and psychobehavioral responses of the general public towards the outbreak, The Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care conducted an online survey from 24 January 2020 to 5 February 2020 and completed data analysis from 1,168 respondents. The main main findings on Risk Perception were:

    The public has a high perceived susceptibility (88%) which they think may have a high chance of being infected; and high perceived severity (98%) over COVID-19
    98% of respondents were worried about the outbreak. Anxiety level, measured by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, was borderline abnormal (8.82).

    There you have it. The current behaviour of the Hong Kong public is BORDERLINE ABNORMAL (personally, I wouldn’t have included “borderline”). Scientific proof. QED.

  7. Joe Blow says:

    Glad to see that the spirit of Lei Feng is still alive and haunting the Mid Levels.

  8. Bob Barker says:

    Wow. Real Lei Feng spirit. You just never know…

  9. Big Al says:

    And there’s more. Have a look at COVID-10 vs other causes of death in Hong Kong (hope this table lines up properly):
    Likelihood of Death
    from Other Causes is >
    Cause of Death No. Deaths COVID-19 COVID-19
    (selected examples) in 2019 Infection Death
    Cancer (tumor) 14,301 x231 x7,150
    Pneumonia 8,264 x133 x4,132
    Heart Disease 5,864 x95 x2,932
    Traffic Accident (in vehicle) 71 same x35
    Traffic Accident (pedestrian) 64 same x32
    COVID-19 (deaths) 2
    infections) 62

    For example, you are as likely to die being a pedestrian hit by a vehicle as you are of becoming infected with COVID-19; you are 4,132 times more likely to die of pneumonia than you are to die of COVID-19. But we all take more precautions for COVID-19. Why?

  10. Anna Gramme says:

    Company Gwailo is an anagram of:

    Myopic Anglo. Aw!

    It’s all in the letters when you think about it.

  11. Hamantha says:

    @Big Al

    “For example, you are as likely to die being a pedestrian hit by a vehicle as you are of becoming infected with COVID-19; you are 4,132 times more likely to die of pneumonia than you are to die of COVID-19. But we all take more precautions for COVID-19. Why?”

    Interesting… People — and the CCP propaganda machine — were making similar arguments about Wuhan not even 1 month ago…

  12. A Poor Man says:

    I guess all of the calm, logical and rational non-wearers who use toilet paper would surely wait until they are down to their last roll or two before going out to look to buy some more. It would be the calm, logical and rational thing to do, just like not wearing a face mask. Common sense tells you that the entire local supply of the stuff could not have evaporated overnight and there must be some at the nearest shop. Good luck!

  13. bagesty says:

    One of the unanticipated benefits of the viral outbreak and the aforementioned ‘borderline’ abnormal / irrational behaviour presently exhibited by the HK peepow is that some of the most hyper-anxious / abnormal / irrational colleagues of mine are pre-emptively self-quarantining themselves permanently by resigning their employment. Frankly, these people would be knocked down by a stiff breeze and are doing us all a favour.

  14. Glim Leaper says:

    All The Hilariously Aggressive Coronavirus Propaganda Banners Found In China:

    https://supchina.com/2020/02/11/all-the-hilariously-aggressive-coronavirus-banners-found-in-china/ e.g. principal officials and celebrities take note:

    串门就是互相残杀,chuàn mén jiù shì hù xiàng cán shā
    聚会就是自寻短见 jù huì jiù shì zì xún duǎn jiàn

    Visiting friends and relatives is a mutual slaughter,
    Partying is looking for death

  15. Mjrelje says:

    Can we all do our part and stop using this COVID-19 name that the CCP has coerced the WHO into coining so as to take the connection away from its fault. It’s German measles, Spanish Flu, Middle East RS, Japanese enphilisis (sp.) and Wuhan coronavirus. Why take the geographic reference away when CCP has shown no evidence of the source of the virus?

  16. Bored Pedant says:


    No it’s not. It’s two letters short.

    It’s actually an anagram for “pay me, I go clown”.

    Is this a clue to the identity of reactor#4? Do you know him by any chance?

  17. Hong Kong Hibernian says:

    And so we see the modern spin on Poe’s work ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, where Emperer For Life Xi the Pooh and his trusted elites hide within oppressive defenses only to be defeated by a virus!

    One hopes that RTHK can create a local production of Poe’s piece, making sure to point out the FACT that local protesters here in HK helped to protect the local population by forcing at least a 50% reduction in mainland visitors.


  18. Boris Badanov says:

    @Big Al

    All part of the great freak-out out-break. Irrationalism from both locals and hysteria ridden expats alike.

    I lived through SARS which has all the signs of being more serious but was still not all it was made out to be unless you were old, otherwise sick or vulnerable or a front line medical worker and so more likely to be exposed. I never wore a mask or worked from home. Hardly anyone did. Borders weren’t sealed. No toilet paper shortages. People panicked but life went on. (Cinemas and restaurants were pleasantly empty and generous with special offers for the not easily daunted.) It will after this too

  19. Boris Badanov says:

    2004 dead in all China according to the SCMP. Wuhan population approx 11m. Equals a 0.01% of population dead. That’s still a gross over-estimate. I’ll take my chances without a mask and without the Charlton Heston Omega Man scenarios of Hamantha.

  20. Hamantha says:


    I see you and Big Al are the resident “Baghdad Bobs” of Hemlock’s privileged expat readership.

  21. Mr Miyagi says:

    I’ll keep my mask thanks. You do what you want.

  22. Stanley Lieber says:


    “HK peepow” gave me a chuckle.

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