The territory has been faring relatively well so far (with 1,041 confirmed cases and four deaths at the time of writing), in large part thanks to the scarring experience of Sars in 2003. This meant that as soon as news of a novel strain of coronavirus in mainland China started to spread, most people decided not to wait for official guidelines and began wearing masks, minimising social outings, and washing hands and homes with increased frequency and thoroughness.
The government, on the other hand, prevaricated for reasons that were hardly connected to public health. Back in October 2019, citing colonial-era emergency laws, the authorities banned wearing a mask in public to prevent protesters hiding their identity as they took part in unauthorised marches (or authorised marched that got banned halfway through). But the administration wasn’t willing to budge. It took a few contradictory press briefings before Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, accepted that surgical masks for preventing the spread of the coronavirus would be allowed – while maintaining that they would remain forbidden at protests.