A customer browsing through protective masks made out of patterned material for sale at a shop in Hong Kong. AFP
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Hong Kong is facing a rare paucity of face masks, so essential to stemming the spread of the coronavirus. So people have started devising ways to tackle the shortage.
Recently, the owner of a beauty parlour says she worked for four days to make 2,100 bottles of hand sanitizers in her storeroom. Aided by volunteers, she also gave away a total of almost ten thousand face masks sourced from Indonesia.
Some have started improvising with handkerchieves and a wire to design the much-needed protection from germs. The homemade face masks have become instant hits on the market.
In one of the most densely populated cities on earth, face masks have become hot property as people scramble for protection against the new deadly coronavirus.
Some are turning to DIY solutions — albeit of questionable quality.
Judy, a 73-year-old out shopping in the district of Wanchai, was spotted in a homemade mask.
"I found the material — my handkerchief, and some non-woven fabric — and I combined them and used some wire for the top, and some elastic," she said, declining to give her surname.
Elase Wong, a tailor, said she was giving away her face mask sewing design.
"Some people couldn't buy any masks... So if they can make them themselves, that would be great," she said.
"I hope everyone can achieve self-sufficiency."The cost of masks has skyrocketed with scarcity and the government resisting price controls or rationing, as in nearby Macau and Taiwan.
A film director surnamed Tong was this week putting the finishing touches to a face mask assembly line in an industrial building.
"I was shocked by the price of face masks," he said.
"I did some research and realised that masks are not that difficult to make. Why do people have to bear such a high cost? Because there is no production line in Hong Kong".
With the help of an investor he managed to import a machine from India, and plans to ship more.
Currently in the testing phase, the device will produce 60-80 surgical masks per minute from Saturday in a dust-free room.
Tong said the masks will be sold online for HK$1-2 each, limited to one box per person.
The administration of chief executive Carrie Lam says it is doing all it can to secure new supplies of face masks amid a global shortage.
Since SARS, which Beijing initially covered up, Hong Kongers have embraced higher communal hygiene standards and face masks have long been a common sight, especially during the winter flu season.
Joseph Kwan, a public health expert from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said widespread mask use during SARS also lowered cases of the common cold that year.
In a tightly packed city like Hong Kong, new viruses will "spread like wildfire if nobody wears a mask", he said.
"It would be a public health disaster".
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