That was in large part thanks to action taken early on, while cases were spreading across mainland China, to implement measures that are now familiar throughout the world: virus mapping, social distancing, intensive hand-washing, and wearing masks and other protective clothing.
Hong Kong was proof that these measures worked, with the city of 7.5 million only reporting some 150 cases at the start of March, even as the number of infections spiked in other East Asian territories like South Korea and Japan, and spread rapidly across Europe and North America.
On Monday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that all non-residents would be barred from the territory as of Wednesday, the latest addition to a raft of new measures.
This is a pattern playing out across parts of Asia — mainland China, Singapore, Taiwan — that were among the first to tackle the outbreak. All are now introducing new restrictions as a sudden wave of renewed cases begins to crest.
Compared to major cities in the West, like London or New York, residents in Hong Kong can sometimes feel as if they’re living in the future. Many of the measures enacted in the Asian metropolis back in February are now being rolled out in European and American cities.
But this latest lesson may be a bitter pill to swallow, as it indicates that quarantines and social distancing must continue well beyond the initial wave of cases, if another round of infections is to be avoided.
For those just going into lockdown, that could mean they’re in for the long haul.
Waves of infection
It was natural therefore that people began to relax somewhat, not only going to work instead of staying home, but also having dinner together, going to the park, and attending weddings and other large social gatherings. While face masks were still common, some people could be spotted going uncovered, particularly for short trips, and there was a general sense of slowly getting back to normal.
All non-residents will be barred from the territory as of Wednesday. The city’s international airport will also no longer allow travelers to transit through Hong Kong. Anyone arriving in the city will have to undergo testing, regardless of their origin. Many bars and restaurants will also be closed, with initial restrictions focused on those serving alcohol.
No time to relax
Speaking Saturday, Lam said that so far the city has “effectively and safely sailed through two waves of epidemic.”
“The first wave was the worries of transmissions from mainland (China), so we have put in a lot of measures,” she said. “The second wave was the local transmissions, with those clusters arising from dinners and other things. Now we are facing the third wave.”
Lam said that it was “only natural” that as the number of new cases subsides, people start “to relax a bit,” and this is what happened towards the start of March. But she said that “in light of the changing circumstances and this most difficult and challenging wave arising from a surge in the global situation and the large number of returnees, then we have to adjust.”
In the Chinese capital Beijing, all international flights are now being diverted to other cities in China, as the number of imported cases continues to rise.
Asia is weeks, if not months, ahead of the West when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. Countries across Europe and North America were slow to learn from those who had already been through it, leaving themselves vulnerable to the rapidly worsening health crises they are experiencing now.