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.
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.