Lam finds way to tackle shortage of face masks: don't wear them

February 05, 2020 11:56
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said government officials should not wear masks unless necessary to save stocks for medical workers. Photo: AFP/Reuters

We normally obey orders from our superiors because we assume they know better, that they have a wider perspective of any given situation, compared to the limited view that we have from our position.

But when our boss tells us to do something that is not likely to help us and may even harm us, we will start to entertain doubts and ask ourselves if something is wrong.

That's what civil servants probably thought when their boss, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, told a news conference on Tuesday that she has ordered government officials not to wear a face mask, and even to take it off if they are already wearing one.

“I actually told [officials] they cannot wear [masks], and they have to take them off, even if they are already wearing them,” Lam was quoted by the local media as saying at the presser, just before she attended the regular Executive Council meeting.

Is she alright? Has she been getting enough sleep lately? That's probably what some members of the civil service thought after hearing her directive.

While our officials are at their wit's end trying to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus from the mainland, here's our leader telling them to do what seems like the opposite thing.

Going even further, Lam suggested that members of the media consider adopting a similar approach.

But she herself was seen wearing a mask just before meeting the media that day.

Lam explained that the soaring demand for masks, with some people using several masks each day, is putting “a lot of pressure on an already tight supply”.

The purpose of the order, she said, is to save stocks for those who truly need them, namely the medical workers.

Wearing of masks should be limited to those who feel unwell or when they have to work with many people or high-risk groups, Lam said, citing the advice of the World Health Organization.

Her directive came minutes before Hong Kong reported its first coronavirus death, a 39-year-old man who had been suffering from an underlying illness and had visited central China’s Wuhan city in January.

Lam's office later clarified her remarks, saying the guidelines did not apply to masks bought by civil servants while stressing “the government had not asked colleagues not to wear masks”.

Lam may have only good intentions for her order, but it has highlighted her government's failure to ensure an adequate supply of masks for Hong Kong citizens.

It surely isn't going to endear her to the 200,000 members of the civil service, some of whom have been joining street protests against her administration.

On Tuesday night, thousands of people braved the cold to camp out at a shop in Kowloon Bay that had announced it would sell face masks for HK$80 per box.

As Hongkongers scramble for the hard-to-find face masks, residents of Macau have no such problem as they could easily get their supplies in pharmacies. All they have to do is present their identity card and they can buy 10 masks every 10 days with real-time information available as to where to buy them.

Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng secured the masks from Portugal, the city's former colonizer. Talking about the steps his administration has taken to combat the coronavirus, he also indicated that it's not a good thing to bother Beijing about it as the mainland itself hardly has enough supply for its 1.4 billion people.

Don't you wish Hong Kong, too, has such a smart leader?

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EJ Insight writer