Hong Kong’s government announced a plan to give every family at least 10 free face masks as it prepares to reopen large parts of society later this week. The region of 7 million people has experienced 14 full days without any community transmission of the new coronavirus, setting the stage for local politicians to roll back some restrictions and reopen certain aspects of the economy.
Every family in Hong Kong will receive 10 cloth masks, and a reusable mask developed locally called a “CU mask.” The CU mask contains copper, according to multiple news reports, and residents can register for one online starting May 6. Unlike the CU mask, the 10 cloth masks will arrive to every residence through the mail without any need for registration.
Gyms, movie theaters, and beauty salons in Hong Kong will be allowed to reopen on Friday. Restaurants are allowed to open as long as they space tables out by 1.5 meters and limit the number of people at any given table to eight, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
“General opinions, including those from experts, conclude that now is an appropriate time to relax social distancing measures. But the epidemic situation may relapse and we should not become slack,” Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, announced on Tuesday in a press conference that was livestreamed on YouTube.
Hong Kong has seen just 1,040 cases of covid-19 and four deaths since the pandemic began. By comparison, the U.S. has over 1.1 million infections and 68,934 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. The U.S. is currently experiencing roughly 25,000 new cases per day and 2,000 new deaths daily, numbers that are expected to rise dramatically as states start to reopen, egged on by President Donald Trump.
Schools in Hong Kong will also begin to reopen starting on May 27 with high school-age kids, according to the South China Morning Post. Schools have been closed since the end of January. Kids in middle school will return to school on June 8, and elementary-age kids in Hong Kong will return on June 15. The youngest kids, in preschool and kindergarten, will not return to school this year.
Public health leaders in Hong Kong have long advocated for the wearing of masks, even during the earliest days of the coronavirus crisis.
“Please take care if you are ill. If you are going to a crowded place, put on a mask even if you are not ill because others may be, even if they have cough etiquette or sneeze etiquette, they may still get in touch with you,” Dr. Gabriel Leung, Founding Director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, said at a press conference in Hong Kong on January 21 in comments that were livestreamed by CGTN.
Human-to-human transmission of coronavirus had been confirmed at that point on January 21 and Dr. Leung explained to the people of Hong Kong that hand hygiene, not touching your face, and wearing a mask were absolutely vital. Public health experts in the West spent the next few months denying that masks would help, something that baffled doctors in Hong Kong, who credited “universal masking” with their ability to contain the virus.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region that functions under a “one country, two systems” approach with Beijing, took the coronavirus pandemic seriously from the beginning, limiting travel from mainland China and shutting down Hong Kong Disneyland by the last week of January.
Strangely, the White House recently claimed this week that President Trump didn’t received his first intelligence briefing on the coronavirus crisis until January 23, which would have been many days after some important milestones. For example, airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York’s John F. Kennedy were already conducting thermal screening for flights coming into the U.S. from China on January 17. Chinese leader Xi Jinping also made public statements on January 21 that the public health crisis from the novel coronavirus “must be taken seriously.”
Ironically, Hong Kong passed an anti-mask law in October of 2019 during an extended period of unrest. Citizens of Hong Kong staged pro-democracy protests, often wearing masks to hide their faces from both police and security cameras. If you had told Hong Kongers a year ago that the government would be handing out masks to everyone, few people would’ve believed you.