In Hong Kong, like many places in Asia, mask use was already widely practiced pre-COVID-19 to deal with pollution and contagion. When large-scale protests began in Hong Kong in 2019, demonstrators wore masks — often the same masks they’d use during illness — to shield themselves from surveillance and tear gas. The government responded by banning all face coverings, a prohibition that was maintained as COVID-19 began to spread. Hongkongers didn’t care. They voluntarily and almost universally adopted mask use in defiance of their government. Local mask factories opened. Pro-freedom activists purchased masks by the tens of thousands, and volunteers distributed them to those in need.
So for those who won’t wear a mask in America because of freedom: Would you wear one in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong’s government recently changed course on masks, but for several months there, masking was an act of protest against actual genocidal authoritarianism in Beijing. And as a public health measure, its results are remarkable. To date, Hong Kong’s COVID-19 death count is 10, while New York City, with a similar population and density, has more than 18,000 confirmed deaths. Masks are not the only reason for that disparity, but they unquestionably contributed to it. This defiant masking was good for business, too: Hong Kong never had a full lockdown. Many restaurants and shops never closed. Even schools have reopened, with mask use, of course.