This Filmmaker Has Turned Mask Maker After the Coronavirus Outbreak Led to a Shortage in Hong Kong

Mr. Tong used to make movies. Now he makes masks as shortages from the coronavirus and panic buying take over Hong Kong.

On Feb. 4, a Hong Kong trading company announced it had 11,000 boxes of surgical masks to sell for HK$80 ($10.30) each over the following two days, limit two per person. Within in a few hours, thousands of people had lined up on the sidewalk outside, with chairs and tents to settle in for the long wait.

Hong Kong politicians from all corners have blasted Chief Executive Carrie Lam for mismanaging the city’s supply and mangling her message about their effectiveness — in part with her own inconsistent mask use in the early stages of the outbreak.

She apologized for “confusion caused” after restricting access to face masks for public officials, saying that Hong Kong was having trouble sourcing them globally. She also called on the general public to use fewer masks.

“What I wanted to say is that government should put the mask supply to medical workers as a priority,” said Lam, who subsequently stopped wearing a mask for her official press briefings. “Therefore we need to evaluate the need of mask use by officials in public events.”

According to the World Health Organization, surgical masks are limited in their ability to helping healthy people stay that way. Diligent hand-washing, the global group says, is far more effective. It recommends masks for people who already have respiratory illness, their caregivers, and health care workers.

For communities that saw otherwise healthy people succumb to SARS in 2003, wearing a mask doesn’t seem so optional. In China, Japan and other parts of Asia, masks are commonly considered preventative — the same way, for example, taking vitamin C or echinacea might be in the U.S.

Healthy people wear them on high-smog days, or if they’re worried about a flu going around. Sick people wear them to keep their germs from spreading, and some people wear them as a fashion statement. In Hong Kong, the government last year actually sought to ban face masks, which had become a symbol of protesters seeking to hide their identities.

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