I’m getting lots of questions about NOVU (my nickname for the 2019-nCoV novel coronavirus) at the moment and I just came across this Wikipedia article with the timeline of SARS.
I find it really helpful for putting things into perspective — for those of us who were here at the time and those of us who are asking the questions about any comparisons with our current situation.
It’s useful to remember that Margaret Chan, the first woman in Hong Kong to head the Department of Health (yes!), went on to head the WHO as a result of her handling of the situation. We met when I was honored with an invitation from Mrs Tung Chee-hua to join a thank you lunch in recognition of my contribution to our community (via HK heartbeat) after everything had finally settled down.
All of those hand sanitizers and lift cleaning notices were born out of that experience and we cleaned up our act a lot (and I mean, a lot!) during that period, setting the framework for a whole host of public hygiene practices that did not exist at the time.
While social media (not yet invented, then) is a great tool for keeping each other updated, we are also very familiar with the tendency of false information to go viral with clickbait articles that generate a lot (a lot!) of money for publishers by triggering our deepest fears.
I liken the HKSAR SARS experience to a forest fire raging through and clearing the dead wood, creating space and fertilizer for all those seedlings with the resilience to thrive. Our (widely dismissed) natural wellness community got a lot of attention and respect and new energy as a result of that chapter. People spent more time outdoors in nature, balconies became an attractive feature when searching for a flat and we turned to each other for support as expatriate moms (and others with means) fled Hong Kong in numbers with their children. Some of my friends who left temporarily did not return.
It was a very quiet time in Hong Kong and I will always remember my cough that could clear Central. No, I did not have SARS. It really was just the flu.
Hong Kong was declared dead by global media (97 handover + Asia Financial Crisis + SARS), but we knew better and everything was back to business as usual within six months and we were stronger and more determined than ever.
I learned that people around me were less anxious when I put my pink mask on in lifts and the MTR, even though I knew it was largely ineffective against the virus. I developed the habit of changing my clothes and thoroughly washing my hands as soon as I got home – a habit that has kept me healthy. I can generally trace the source when I catch anything, now.
We are reminded (again) to look after ourselves and each other.
PS – I will try to dig out and share the handouts I prepared from speaker presentations for my event, Behind The Mask, and will host an update with sufficient interest. Both speakers are still here.
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