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Hong Kong Cold – a Tale of Two Epidemics – 7 February 2020
News and Notes by William “Grumpy” Stork

Of the seven dwarves, I now identify with Grumpy. After ten days of self-imposed quarantine due to this virus, I’ve now heard that the specialists now say that it’s the next fourteen days which is the period with the highest infectious incubation risk. Even more days of self-quarantine? I am grouchy! Are they going to continue to extend this ‘risk’ envelope? When will I be freed to use the MTR transit system? When to go shopping? When to be sociable with friends? Or when even to go to the mailbox to post things? GRRRR!

I thought there might be a silver lining that could bolster me toward feeling better. So far, I’ve decreased that ‘bedside stack of books to read’ by four, cleaned out my desk drawers (which had been a mess of ‘things just shoved in’), made a big dent in belated correspondence, and I’ve also finished my 2019 IRS 1040 for my CPA. Well, almost: US passport holders that are non-resident need to supply to the government a curious bit of information: the maximum amount in any foreign bank for the year. Yup, maximum, and that’s not an easy figure to arrive at! For that information, and other related items, I need to get them from my ‘personal relationship manager’ at the bank. But now I find out that she is temporarily not in the office, and I’ll need to wait for her return or to wait to see if she is working from home. More frustrations. GRRRR!

In greater Hong Kong, as well, the frustrations are growing, as is the spread of the infections. In addition to the ever-present TV shows following the Hong Kong stock market, there’s also continuous coverage of news regarding the illness.

Having lived through SARS in 2002-03, I can tell that this medical event is progressing, as being evidenced by the name alone. What started out being referred to as the ‘Wuhan virus,’ and then the novel coronavirus, now has a new name: “2019-NCoV.” Quite a mouthful and one that doesn’t slip easily off the tongue, like SARS, MERS, H1N1, ebola or even that deadliest of viruses, measles. But I can tell that this has reached the stage where it’s changing from an epidemic to a pandemic, as WHO now has a committee to try to give it a better name. Yes, that’s true: a ‘naming committee.’ Big stuff.

There continue to be complaints in the media about WHO’s reluctance to be more actively involved in the effort to prevent the spread of what is now appearing to be quite a major global concern. Here this is not as big a concern as the one from of the local populace as to what the HKSAR government is doing. And not doing. The news continues to show queues of people waiting to purchase surgical face masks. The total in queues, yesterday, was said to be over two thousand. The government’s announcement that more masks would arrive ‘soon’ seems to be premature, and the public is very unhappy, as are the legislators of all political parties. No tribal politics on this issue!

One thing that I’m curious about is the government’s reluctance to admit that surgical face masks actually are not effective in preventing the spread of the disease, unless you’re a medical practitioner in close contact with those possibly at risk. All reports that I’ve read indicate that one needs to be in personal contact with someone infected, and contact is measured for us at about one meter (that’s about a yard away, for Americans)!  A means of spreading the disease might come from droplets in the spray when a person talks, and these droplets can also be living on metal surfaces … but only with a life of about one hour. Face masks reduce the possibility of the wearer infecting someone else, but it doesn’t really protect the wearer. Below I list of some of my sources.

But, hey: does this imply that I’m free to break my quarantine, and go out where everyone else is wearing masks! And then wash my hands well when I return, having touched some potentially grubby surfaces during my outing! Stay tuned!

Travelers ‘mask up’ to stay as safe as possible.

Hospital staff unions continue to pressure the government and the Chief Executive Carrie Lam to close all of the borders. The initial Monday (2/03/20) strike of a bit fewer than 3,000 (mostly nurses) was joined the next day by 11,000 after Lam refused to meet with them to discuss their demands. Some say her refusal to close all but three border crossings was a sign of her arrogance and a refusal to be pushed into doing something by a public strike. The remaining open access points includes the new long bridge to Macau, but with heightened health checks at the immigration station. The airport remains open, and a border crossing to Shenzhen remains open, again with heightened health-checking.

Now I’m thinking, why should I feel grumpy?

First think about the medical workers on strike, worried that any influx of mainland tourists would be those seeking medical attention from those overburdened as it is. Additionally, the supply of their protective coverings is quickly being depleted.

At present the union has escalated their strike action by occupying key floors of the Hospital Authority’s headquarters, demanding better protection from the deadly coronavirus and the full closure of the border with mainland China. This was to be the last day of their strike, yet a newly formed protest group Hospital Authority Employees Alliance said that if 30% so vote, the strike would be extended, but that vote failed, as many felt the needs of the community was the overriding concern.

What Carrie Lam did to try to do to appease the medical workers (and the vast public support for them) was to announce that all visitors from China would, starting today, be placed in a quarantine for 14 days. [A number of question arose as to where to put them, but the local hotels that have lost heavily due to the protests keeping tourists away now seem to be eager, and the first ones announced were the hotels at Hong Kong Disneyland (now closed).]

The medical workers strike, though, does not continue. The new worry is that remaining medical workers do not have an adequate supply of protective gear remains, but the workers said that the public’s safety was now the paramount issue.

Stay tuned for Part 3. This definitely isn’t over yet. Did you miss Part 1? Find it here.

Sources:
23 January: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51205344
6 February: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-51363132
3 February (Facebook link): https://www.facebook.com/bbcworldservice/posts/how-effective-are-face-masks-in-preventing-the-spread-of-airborne-diseases/3072455612773544/
27 January: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/408255/wuhan-coronavirus-face-masks-do-nothing-virologist

Please comment below. Thanks.

2 comments to Hong Kong Cold Part 2

  • William Stork

    You are a prince, Roman! FINCen (FINancial Crimes Enforcement Network) was set up by the US Treasury Dept to combat money laundering. I e-file a FBAR report, FinCen Form 114, each year as I have foreign bank and financial accounts. I would hate to get audited for money laundering if I overstate my deposit!

  • Roman Weil

    From your CPA classmate, Roman. Check with your CPA: there is some chance that the IRS will be satisfied with a number larger than the largest number you had on deposit. So, for example, if your largest deposit was $12,750.23 and you report the largest as $17,000.00, then you would be safe. Ask your accountant and if you learn that an upper bound is acceptable, then you don’t need to wait for your banker to return, just send in a conservatively large estimate. This advice is surely worth no more than what you’ve paid for it.

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