As new coronavirus cases slow, more HK residents going outdoors

Since January, the novel coronavirus has traveled thousands of miles across the globe and affected at least 193 countries. COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, has made its mark, firmly placing restrictions on borders, economies, and nations. 

But in Hong Kong, which is only a few hours' train ride from the ground zero of the coronavirus, daily cases have dropped to single digits. 

Hong Kong currently has 1,030 coronavirus cases, after 4 new cases were reported Tuesday, April 21. No new cases were reported Monday, April 20.

When news broke of the coronavirus emerging from China in January, residents here were quick to react. 

With the scars of the SARS virus still firm in their memory, residents started reducing their outdoor activity. Face masks were bought in boxes, hand sanitizers were snapped up, and social distancing increased.

Hong Kong has a population of 7.5 million, and for many districts such as Mong Kok, space is hugely competitive. Yet the high density of the city hasn't succumbed to an explosion of coronavirus cases that many predicted, despite dealing with the influx of the virus since January. 

At the beginning of April, the country saw a rise in cases among residents returning from overseas, but new cases have slowed since then.

It's especially remarkable when compared to the scenes over in New York, which is similar to Hong Kong for its large population density. The Big Apple has recently become the newest center of the epidemic with more cases of COVID-19 than any country in the world. 

On March 29, the Hong Kong government announced new measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, such as limiting social gatherings to groups of 4 people.

Anyone who violates the law will be given a fixed penalty fine of HK$2,000, or a higher fine of HK$25,000 and 6 months in jail for those who organize or allow group gatherings. 

Yet as the weather starts to become warmer in Hong Kong, residents are becoming more confident in returning to a slither of normality again. Despite this year's Easter weekend being one of the quietest in recent times globally, it still didn't deter some residents to go outside and enjoy some of Hong Kong's most tranquil islands.

Cheng Chau Island, Hong Kong

CHENG CHAU ISLAND. Photo by Tommy Walker/Rappler

Residents flocked to Cheng Chau Island, a one-hour boat ride from Hong Kong Island.

"I don't think everyone is taking the government's advice seriously. People are still gathering in crowds of more than 4," admitted Alfred, an office worker from Hong Kong Island.

"You cannot stop people going outside with no lockdown, but we all have to do what we can such as wear masks and wash hands," he added.

A family man, who chose to remain anonymous, felt relaxed about taking his children out during the current pandemic.

"I think going outside is okay, as long as you practice your own hygiene. Trying to keep yourself healthy is the only thing you can do. There's nothing else we can control, so we shouldn't worry," he said.

But local residents of Cheung Chau are angry, insisting people should stay home, for fear of the virus spreading.

Tai O, Hong Kong

LOCAL TOURISTS. Tai O fishing village on Lantau Island, as seen here on April 17, has seen an increase in local tourists lately. Photo by Tommy Walker/Rappler

In addition to the new measures on social gatherings, bars selling only alcohol are closed until April 30. But more residents are keen to take day trips, away from the clusters of city crowds.

Sai Kung has become busier as of late, with residents flocking to beaches in hordes. On Lamma Island, despite the temporary closure of several bars, weekends continue to attract day-trippers. Visitors are slowly returning to Tai O on Lantau Island – something that has not been seen since before the widespread anti-government protests of 2019. – Rappler.com

Tommy Walker is a freelance multimedia reporter and correspondent. He covers news, politics, health, and travel, and has reported on events and stories relating to North Korea, Colombia, Venezuela, France, and Russia. He is based in Hong Kong. 

Tommy Walker

Tommy Walker is a British journalist, photographer and travel writer currently based between Hong Kong & Taipei. In 2019, Tommy reported for Rappler as Hong Kong correspondent for the anti-government protests. His work provided frontline videos from demonstrations which included the Polytechnic University siege, and Hong Kong’s national security law fallout. His work has also included covering the COVID19 pandemic in 2020.

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