March 12, 2020

Hang in there, New York

Over the past couple of weeks, as the novel coronavirus / Covid-19 has started to make its presence felt in the United States, I've received tons of messages from friends and acquaintances in the U.S. asking how things are in Hong Kong. My guess is that they're looking for more information on how the situation played out, on the ground, in real life here. I thought it might be helpful to list some of my observations here, just in case it's useful or helpful to anyone.

First, the hard news:
  1. If you're looking for English language news from Hong Kong: One of the best sources for breaking and consistently-updated news on coronavirus in Hong Kong (as well as some coverage on how coronavirus is impacting other places in Asia as well as the region at large) is SCMP: SCMP maintains an updated-daily ticker of the World Health Organization's confirmed infections and fatalities count as a module embedded in its coronavirus stories. 
  2. Hong Kong map of confirmed infections: The Hong Kong government maintains a live map of confirmed Covid-19 infections here: The government also recently published a list of all buildings in Hong Kong where people have self-quarantined (for one reason or another) so others have information and can prepare
Second, my observations. Caveat: I'm no pro, these are just my personal notes.

I've been back in Hong Kong since just before the January 1 new year. It wasn't until around Chinese New Year in late Jan that people started to really pay attention to the spread of the novel coronavirus—this is probably because so many people were traveling and moving around the region that week. It's been about seven weeks now since Chinese New Year and Hong Kong confirmed infections have held steady in the very-low-100s; we are just now getting back to "normal life" in the city. Slowly.
  • The key difference between what I observed in Hong Kong vs. what I'm hearing about what's happening in New York (and seeing on social media): So many people in Hong Kong lived through the Sars epidemic and witnessed the devastation it caused in such a short timeframe that as soon as the novel coronavirus became a thing, everyone started wearing face masks and sanitizing their hands throughout the day. Immediately, hand-washing campaigns were posted all over the city, sterilization of public and communal spaces stepped up, elevator buttons were covered with plastic, and signs were posted in every toilet stall warning people to shut the lid before flushing. In New York, it sounds like people are stocking up on supplies.
  • Working from home started almost immediately. The government here took the novel coronavirus spread very seriously and almost immediately announced that it would be following a work-from-home policy for government employees and recommended that offices around the city do the same. This helped cut down on close contact with strangers (commuting, public life) and close prolonged contact with coworkers who may or may not have recently traveled abroad. The work-from-home recommendations extended to just around three weeks, with some offices staying closed for a bit longer.
  • People stopped going out. This has been very hard on businesses, especially restaurants and hotels. Over the past few weeks, food delivery apps have experienced a boon, with even high-end restaurants getting into home delivery. Some restaurant groups have started working with their top guests on private home-chef entertaining and family dining programs and other exclusive dine-at-home experiences.
  • The virus and heat. There's been a lot of speculation about how the virus might die in the summer and... I'm not sure that makes a lot of sense, considering the virus is also well-present in southeast Asia where it's been hot this entire time.
  • Two months. It's taken about two months, decisive government action, and a vigilant population to help restore some semblance of normalcy back to everyday life here in Hong Kong. If things move in a similar pathway for New York, it might take about two months for things to level out there, too. 
Hang in there, guys, wash your hands, and stay home.