Face mask shortage hits the poor hardest

February 07, 2020 17:38
A customer purchases protective masks at a store in Hong Kong in this file picture. With supplies running out, the government has come under fire for failing to meet the needs of the population amid the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Bloomberg

A citywide shortage of face masks has become a serious concern among Hong Kong people as the city battles to contain the spread of the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic.

The situation is particularly worrisome for grass-roots citizens and families.

Many underprivileged citizens across Hong Kong are panicking whenever they need to commute to work, go out to buy food or have to visit hospitals for follow-up consultations, etc, because they simply don’t have enough, or any, face masks and hand sanitizer.

And things are even worse for homeless people, many of whom have to seek refuge from the chilly weather in temporary cold shelters operated by the Home Affairs Department across the territory.

Under most circumstances, dozens of these homeless people, without having their temperature taken at all, are cramped into a confined space, overwhelmingly without face masks, thereby substantially increasing the risk of cross-infection among them if anyone of them is a coronavirus carrier.

As for low-income families who can afford to live in sub-divided flats, they aren’t much better off either.

While the living conditions of the sub-divided flats are often appalling, there are also complaints from the occupants about their homes getting flooded as a result of cracked water or drainage pipes, which could turn their living space into a perfect breeding ground for germs and viruses.

As we can see, sub-divided flat occupants may often be exposed to substantial health risks even if they are staying indoors.

Given the grim situation, the government should, in the short run, approve emergency funding for social welfare organizations so that the firms can provide grass-roots citizens with face masks and hand sanitizer for free.

Also, efforts should be made to ensure that face masks are available in public service outlets with heavy foot traffic.

In the long run, the administration should conduct a comprehensive follow-up on the health risks confronting the grass-roots households due to poor living conditions.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Society for Community Organization