Earlier this month, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam caused a stir when she ordered government officials not to wear surgical masks except in limited circumstances, to save supplies for medical staff in the front lines battling against the new COVID-19 virus. She herself has often been seen at public events not wearing a mask.

However, after a backlash from angry civil servants in Hong Kong, Lam’s office clarified that the internal guidelines did not apply to civil servants who wore their own surgical masks. She later apologised for the misunderstanding, and stressed she made the order to protect stocks intended for medical workers.

Hong Kong residents have struggled to buy face masks amid a growing need around the world as the virus continues to spread. Some of the residents chastised the Hong Kong’s administration for failing to ensure a stable supply.

Queuing for masks in Sham Shui Po, retiree Agatha Cheung said, “If it weren’t for the government’s slow response, we wouldn’t have to queue now.” The old lady and her 70-year-old husband put tissue paper inside their masks. “With the tissue paper, I could use one mask for two to three days,” she said.

“The official may be considerate because he can travel via car, but am I supposed to thank him?” said another elderly resident at Sham Shui Po, who said she barely had 14 masks for the coming weeks. “But this time the government is not really doing that well. They should have reduced the number of people crossing the border.”

HK Infectious disease expert: Some infected people may not show symptoms

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Society For Infectious Diseases (HKSID) has posted a message on its website, advocating the wearing of masks to combat the spread of the new COVID-19 virus in Hong Kong.

It said that the wearing of surgical masks has been shown to be effective in stopping transmission of other respiratory viruses. “We fully support the notion of wearing surgical masks by all persons at all times in public areas regardless of whether symptoms of COVID-19 is present,” it said.

It added that aside from wearing surgical masks, people should continue to observe good personal hygiene, including frequent and thorough hand washing by soap and water and other measures.

The HKSID was founded in 1995 by a number of medical practitioners in Hong Kong to promote the advancement of the study of infectious diseases as well as to keep the Hong Kong medical profession and public informed of the latest developments in the battle against infectious agents.

Hong Kong Infectious disease expert Dr Joseph Tsang Kay-yan also explained to Hong Kong media on Sunday (16 Feb) why masks are needed. Dr Tsang said some infected people may not have started showing symptoms and so not even know they are infected.


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