19th March 2020 – (Hong Kong) A purported prank video uploaded by Joel Werner, founder and CIO of Solitude Capital Management in Hong Kong yesterday had caused uproar and sent shock waves amongst the expatriates’ community yesterday. He first removed his surgical mask before using his finger to smear some saliva on the handrail of an MTR train. 

He subsequently admitted the incident and posted an apology on his Facebook:

The incredibly selfish and childish behaviour demonstrated by Joel Werner who treated the global pandemic as a joke has caused the rest of us to wonder if it was the ‘Western superiority’ mentality that makes him think that he is immune to the virus.

While panic about a sudden, deadly virus is to be expected, some fears — especially in North America and the West — have been based on something other than health. The panic has exposed a deep-seated xenophobia, and with it, a symptom of its own has surfaced i.e. hostility towards Asians as it is assumed that they are ‘the virus’ themselves. While othering often centers the white experience as “superior” and “pure,” fears of “dirtiness” also extend to conflicts outside of Western colonization.

Facing discrimination or not, Asians in China and Hong Kong have started to take pre-cautionary measures during the early days of the pandemic including wearing surgical masks and using hand disinfectants frequently. Their discipline has resulted in the total number of infected cases kept at very low level in Hong Kong and in China, for the first time, there were no new cases reported today.

Meanwhile, Westerners in particular Europeans have been adopting a lax attitude and they continued to practise social kissing and refused to wear surgical masks. Their lackadaisical attitude towards the health crisis has resulted in the pandemic roaring across European continents including Italy, France, Germany and Spain etc. Just because their Western leaders are not wearing masks does not mean that they don’t need to respect the wishes of others here.

In an article published on our website yesterday, an online rumour was spread on social media amongst the local French community that the two COVID-19 infected French men went drinking at Pastis at Wyndham St, F.A.B (French American Bistro) and Cassio in Central on the night of 13th March when they touched down in Hong Kong. F.A.B. issued a statement on their Instagram yesterday to refute the rumour and said that the two did not go out on Friday and they were hospitalised on Saturday.

Even if the rumour may not be true, many amongst the local expatriate community continue to adopt a lax attitude towards the pandemic and they still patronise bars and restaurants after work and during weekends in Wan Chai, Soho and Central area. Most of them still do not wear masks when hanging out at night and they continue to defy the government’s advice to urge Hong Kong residents to reduce social contact. Diners should eat quickly and leave restaurants to reduce physical contact. However, many still choose to spend hours drinking at bars and maintaining close contacts with each other without any form of protection. Not only many expatriates but even some locals still continue to drink and party without fear.

We have therefore urged the Hong Kong government to suspend all bars, restaurants, clubs, cinemas and gyms etc to prevent the spread of the virus due to the surge of imported cases if the situation worsens. Wedding dinners should also be banned as there are two latest cases of infected patients who attended wedding banquets. As of yesterday, there were a total of 25 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Most of them travelled overseas before returning to Hong Kong. 10 new presumptive cases were also confirmed this morning. The 182nd case is a 50-year-old woman who works at a Canadian International School. She has no travel record. During incubation period, she visited LKF in Central and partied with her friends. Authorities are now tracking the close contacts.

While there are many expatriates in Hong Kong who have started to wear surgical masks and reduced social contacts in recent weeks, a handful of them can still be seen walking on the streets of Central without a surgical mask. They usually stand out in the crowd like a sore thumb as they do not think that wearing a surgical mask would protect them from catching the virus. On a typical Friday night, many are still drinking and partying for hours in close proximity with each other in SOHO and LKF.

Two of our foreign readers (one of whom claimed he is a medical doctor) have left comments in our article yesterday to address the issue in particular, the second comment below which we think justify the reason why all expatriates living in the city should wear masks i.e. ‘Wearing a mask is a mark of respect as we are guests in HK. Second, it shows solidarity that we do something to prevent the spread of the virus and it shows we care about not becoming a host and transmit the virus to someone who may die from it.’

Many foreigners were spotted without masks three days ago in Central.

Similarly, if you visit an Asian family friend who courteously asks you to remove your shoes at their doorsteps, you will be obliged to do so out of respect.

The Hong Kong government has repetitively urged the citizens to wear masks and to reduce social contacts, perhaps it is high time that all expatriates living in the city should comply with the government’s wishes and respect the rights of other citizens by doing that before the epidemic spread to the next level.