Wednesday, 6 May 2009

SPECIAL EDITION ON THE SWINE FLU OUTBREAK: "All's Swine" in Hong Kong - Observations of a Singaporean in HK

If I had to open a business in Hong Kong right now, it would be to sell facial masks and I am not talking about those boring one-tone green, blue and white ones.

Mine would come in a variety of trendy colours and materials, think striped, spotted, dotted, some with smiley faces, others with scowls and growls – you get the drift.

Masks are definitely back on in Hong Kong! Its Day 3 (Monday 4 May) here of the Swine Flu H1N1 Outbreak with one confirmed case of a 25-year-old Mexican man who checked into the Metropark Hotel in Wanchai resulting in a seven-day quarantine of all the hotel guests and almost all of the 300 staff within its walls.

The TV news, the SCMP (South China Morning Post), the HK Standard and several other publications have run a non-stop barrage of stories of staffers and hotel guests bitching and moaning through telephone interviews about the bad food, how unreasonable the length of the in-room quarantine is, the boredom etc. But I personally feel the HK Government is absolutely doing the right thing and with a prompt initiative that shows that they did learn from their experience with SARS.

I give them all the kudos for standing firm.

This morning, as I boarded the MTR, I noticed all the MTR staff from stationmaster to cleaners had donned on face masks. Signs were up to say that all public thoroughfares were being sanitized every two hours and they are really carrying this out religiously.

Even in my serviced apartment, all the staff from front office to housekeeping and the door boys have been in surgical masks for the last three days since the outbreak. There is something to be said about the efficiency of viral marketing and spreading the word in HK. My mobile phone was already buzzing the very hour that the government confirmed HK’s first flu outbreak on Saturday evening. Before the news was carried by the print media the next morning, I would say that almost the whole population of 9 million people in Hong Kong had already been alerted to it through some means or other.

I only wish that the private sector was as vigilant. I took a taxi back to my apartment this evening after picking my daughter Alexis up from kindy and was not very amused to find my cab driver blowing his nose and clearing his throat in the confines of my air-conditioned cab. I rolled down the windows immediately in protest. I am not impressed that the taxi cab companies have not insisted on their drivers wearing masks considering that there are actually (*)two drivers somewhere out there (one who picked up the Mexican tourist from the airport to the hotel and the other taxi driver who sent him from the hotel to the hospital) who have not come forward because they are afraid to lose income from the weeklong quarantine.

This evening whilst I ran to the supermarket to restock my fridge, the rest of HK seemed to be going about its regular routine, a little oblivious to everything. The odd 5% to 10% masked were the older folk, some students (as this is HK’s exam period) and the occasional office worker. I don’t think it has quite hit home yet that this could really be serious. Most here think that SARS was the penultimate!

Better safe than sorry, I say! I have decided to head to Mannings (HK’s version of Guardian) tomorrow to pick up my pack of masks for the family before it gets sold out.

Yeah, if you can’t beat them, join them but no one says that you have to blend into the crowd.

I have already hatched a plan to get Alexis to get her non-toxic markers out to draw, dot and dabble and make our masks a collection of simply fabulicious creations.

After all, never let it be said that a crisis dampens imagination and creativity!

(*) Note: that as of Wednesday evening, the two taxi drivers mentioned have since come forward for testing.

Pictures above taken from:

by ey


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