In Hong Kong, face masks are ubiquitous.
Nearly everyone wears masks when they go out on the streets — a visual representation of the city’s widespread, intense efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
But there is also rising friction as people warn against complacency and the possibility of a second wave of cases.
Earlier this week, the front page of the influential local newspaper Apple Daily criticized expatriates gathering in a bar without masks. The story tapped into a widespread perception among many Hong Kongers, whether true or not, that some of the city’s foreign residents have not shared their alarm at the outbreak.
The trauma of SARS: Many foreigners living in the city today did not experience the 2003 SARS outbreak, which has cast a long shadow over the current response, and made Hong Kongers far more wary and willing to take extreme precautions.
Some residents were frustrated at the attitude of a minority of expatriates, including some bosses and colleagues, who belittled or mocked the emergency measures being put in place — such as wearing masks everywhere or working from home — ignoring the painful lessons that their locally-born colleagues had learned from SARS.
The privilege of escape: There was also a feeling that many foreign passport holders had an easy escape route to other countries that Hong Kongers did not.
Another part of the problem is that, while Hong Kong has long advised people to wear face masks in public, other governments have given conflicting advice, and those returning to or going about the city unmaksed may be following the guidance of their home countries.