Hong Kong residents join massive queues for masks as fears of coronavirus spread

Screengrabs of photos posted on Twitter.
Screengrabs of photos posted on Twitter.

People across Hong Kong are desperate to get their hands on masks, particularly after the terrority recorded its first death from coronavirus on February 4. The next day, thousands of people lined up in front of a shop that had just received a new shipment of masks. Videos of the huge queue started circulating on social media in a sign of the alarm spreading across the city.

Eighteen cases of coronavirus had been reported in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous territory of China, by February 5, 2020. The spread of this new virus, which was first transmitted to humans in Wuhan, China, has been all the more frightening for Hong Kong residents because of the 2003 SARS epidemic. SARS, a virus which also emerged in China, killed 299 people in Hong Kong and brought the local economy to its knees.

In an attempt to prevent this kind of devastation a second time round, Hong Kong residents have been rushing to buy so-called face masks, which can prevent infected people from transmitting the virus to others and are recommended in high-risk areas.

Hong Kong residents have been posting photos of empty shelves and long waiting queues forming in front of pharmacies.

A queue made up of 10,000 people

On February 3, the Hong Kong company Luck Well International Holdings announced on Facebook that they would be selling 11,000 boxes of 50 masks for 80 Hong Kong dollars apiece (equivalent to about 9.30 euros). According to media reports, boxes of masks normally retail for around 50 Hong Kong dollars.

The sale began on February 5, the day after the first death from coronavirus was announced in Hong Kong. According to the South China Morning Post, more than 10,000 people queued in front of the shop. Some had spent the night in the queue, hoping to improve their chances of getting the allotted two boxes per customer. 

This Facebook Live streamed on the evening of February 4, 2020 shows large numbers of people waiting in line for the shop to open the next day.

This image shows the queue the next day. The photo was taken about 120 metres from the place where masks were being sold.

The large numbers can be explained by the fact that Hong Kong residents have had an increasingly difficult time getting masks from pharmacies and other stores. Some shops have also hiked their prices in response to the demand. Some people denounced this practice on Twitter.

This image posted on Twitter shows boxes of 30 masks and 50 masks sold for 1,380 and 1,780 Hong Kong dollars respectively (equivalent to 160 and 208  euros). Boxes of 50 masks normally retail for around 50 Hong Kong dollars according to media reports.

“Do you understand why people have to line up for a box of masks selling at HKD80? Do you know the government is just lying about [the fact that] the price of masks is reasonable?” reads this tweet.

One social media user offered help to anyone in Hong Kong who was struggling to find a mask.

In a second tweet he explained that he didn’t want any money for the masks and asked recipients not to resell them.

Afraid that the close links between continental China and Hong Kong will mean an increase in cases of coronavirus on the island, doctors held a protest and more than 2,700 medical personnel went on strike to try and push Hong Kong’s government to shut down its border with China.