Monday, November 28, 2005

Mask hysteria

We’re not yet at the fever pitch of rumour, counter-rumour and speculation that engulfed the whole of Hong Kong during SARS in 2003 (as a newcomer to the city I was utterly bemused by the fact that I suddenly seemed to be in the middle of a hospital drama on a gigantic scale), but, ratcheted up of course by hysterical coverage in the press with a lot of unseemly mentions of how slow mainland China is at releasing information, with the barely hidden implication that it's those mainlanders who will cause the pandemic, it’s only a matter of time before we find ourselves back in the numbers game for counting up the bird flu deaths and calculating the infection-to-mortality rate (yes, this was quite a popular SARS pursuit).

After SARS, clear-headed commentators pointed out that the real economic damage was caused by the spread of fear, not the spread of SARS. But every morning at the bus stop there are more people wearing masks. I think the bird flu threat encapsulates all of HK’s favourite fears rolled into one:

  • an illness spread by contact with other people
  • toxic food (just when you thought it was safe to buy live chickens...)
  • a falling economy which will affect property prices, and finally, of course,
  • mainlanders

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