For most people in Hong Kong, face masks have become a part of their daily attire amid worries about the coronavirus outbreak, but in the remote fishing village of Tai O, residents are relatively unfazed.
Tucked away on the western side of Lantau Island, the largest of Hong Kong’s islands, locals of the Tai O village roam mask-free, with many saying they will use them when necessary.
“Right now Tai O doesn’t need them,” said Chan Lui Fok, a 62-year-old fisherman. “There’s a lot of seawater to wash your hands with, and (I’ll) just use it as a sanitizer.”
“If there is a problem, like there really is (a confirmed case) in Tai O, then, of course, I’ll wear a mask,” he added.
Hong Kong has 42 confirmed cases of coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,000 people in mainland China and sent jitters across global markets.
While there are no confirmed cases in Tai O, most of the population there is elderly, some with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable in the event of an outbreak.
Supplies of hand sanitizers, masks, and other perceived panaceas in Tai O ran out at the beginning of Lunar New Year. The owner of its one pharmacy that caters to its population of around 2,000 said he was not sure when he could restock.
“Over a hundred locals have asked me, and some tourists have come here to ask about (masks), disinfectant, alcohol, and hand wash, and I say we’re sold out,” said Cheung Wah, who operates the Tai O branch of Fook Sang Tong Medicine Co Pharmacy.
“I have no clue when we’ll have any in stock again,” said Cheung, who has been running the branch for 13 years.
He, however, said he was worried about the constant flow of tourists, who throng the quaint village most weekends.
Lai Kin Bun, a 62-year-old security guard who grew up in Tai O, recently moved back to his fishing community from across the Chinese border in Shenzhen because he was afraid he might not be able to return if authorities took additional measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Lai has had previous bouts of respiratory illnesses but is not worried for now.
“If tourists come from the outside, then of course I’m going to wear a mask. But there’s nothing we can do about when they do come, so how are we supposed to prevent them from coming?”
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