Coronavirus: A View From Hong Kong


What is Hong Kong? Like right now like what is happening in. Hong Kong sure So it's been pretty wild As you might have guessed almost immediately you saw a run on a bunch of goods Like facemasks like toilet. Paper bizarrely Like bags of rice for a couple of weeks. They were really really hard to find across. Hong Kong people really panicking You would see people walking down the streets of Hong Kong sometimes like small little old ladies carrying what looked like a two year supply of massive toilet. Paper packages is still. It's still a common sight on the streets. He's still see people stocking up on that stuff so I mean but these are items that you need and want to imagine I mean what what did you do so I got really lucky. I am considered wealthy in the currency of Hong Kong. Now I have lots of toilet paper. Lots of paper towels. I've managed to get two extra hand sanitizers yesterday which is like winning the lottery in Hong Kong They magically cropped up at a nearby seven eleven I feel pretty good But it's all been luck and there's a sort of underground chat group among Hongkongers about which stores are getting new shipments. What time so. If you're really committed you can get up early in the morning and go stand outside. A pharmacy is supposed to be getting fresh shipment of face masks and hope that you'll be one of the first in line you can maybe get some of those. Has there been a moment. as you've been kind of in the city walking around the city is there like a moment or an image. That's kind of stuck with you or you're like wow. This is like this is quite an event that I'm living through sure so there was one day before Lunar New Year which was when People in Hong Kong were really starting to get worried about this particular outbreak and I went to a pharmacy to try to buy some masks and when I was at the pharmacy the only one that they had left were little fluorescent neon colored masks for children and incredibly expensive boxes of ninety five masks These are widely considered the Mercedes Benz of face masks that they were selling for one hundred fifty dollars per box and I was watching a group of You know local Hong Kong residents and also some ex. Pat Westerners look at the available supply of masks and people were trying to figure out. Was it worth spending the money? And then of course the The expat Westerners came in and they just bought up all the n ninety five masks that were there and The locals were left to sort of figure out whether or not they would buy the kids masks. So there's there's a degree of The Corona virus outbreak exposing inequality in the city. How many people like everybody wearing a face mask? So Asia has a reasonably long cultural history of wearing face masks. So it's much more acceptable over here and I would say again within a week. People really freaking out about the corona virus. Probably Ninety percent of people are wearing masks at this point. It's also it's sort of a social thing. It's almost a obligation. If everyone's wearing a face mask then you sort of you. Limit the spread clearly. Because everyone's wearing a face mask but also there's a cultural signal to it that says we're kind of all in this together. It's a special time and we're all doing what we can to stop this outbreak. Even if it's just wearing a face mask. Do you wear face masks when you go out. Oh yeah absolutely. Every every time do you look wind. You take it off or keep it on. Well that's the really weird thing. A there seems to be weird Belief System in Hong Kong. You're immune to the corona virus. As long as you're eating and drinking at a restaurant so people will wear the face masks on the street but then as soon as they go to a bar or a restaurant to have dinner the facemask immediately come off and everything is normal. It's a bit weird because on the one hand you walk down the street and it looks like a scene out of contagion but then you walk into a restaurant or you see people drinking outside of a bar and it looks completely normal. I mean does it feel like the reaction is appropriate? I mean how does it feel? I mean you're you're there. You're sort of in the atmosphere of the city right so I'm not really in a good position to say whether or not these are the appropriate measures so but what I will say is the corona virus keep spreading and the cases keep piling up. People can see. It's very very contagious Even though they're still arguing over the fatality rate but at some if this goes on for months and months at some point governments particularly in Asia in China in Hong Kong now in South Korea and Japan are going to have to make a decision about how long they can realistically shut down the entire economy. About how sustainable. It is to restrict the Movement of people to stop flights to shut down. Factories limit the movement of goods in their efforts to stop the outbreak and already in China. We're seeing some efforts by the Chinese authorities to get people back to work and they're sort of juggling these two imperatives of making sure that the economy doesn't grind to a complete halt and also making sure that as people go back to work it doesn't restart the spread of the virus so you have such an interesting perspective because you're sort of in the middle of the reality of it in the. Us feels quite abstract still. Have you been surprised at the economic impact of the Krona virus? So I haven't been surprised from the sense that you think about the world's second-biggest economy coming to an almost complete standstill. There were clearly going to be economic effects. The weirdest thing to me of this whole Saga in the markets has been. We spent two years religiously following every in and out of the trade tensions between the US and China and sort of ringing our hands worrying about what is this going to do to global supply chains. What does this all mean? And then when China actually started shutting down factory is its transportation network told people. They couldn't leave their houses for weeks. The global market didn't really react to that. That was the weirdest thing to me. That's true I mean what what Economic Indicators. Are you watching right now? Or what are you kind of keeping your eye on at this at this moment so there are a bunch of alternative indicators for China's economic activity in particular this is one of the sides of no one actually trusting the official GDP data. But there's a lot of other stuff that you can look at. So for instance. Coal consumption is a really interesting one as factories come back online You can see coal. Consumption is way down from where it should be but it is starting to pick up ever so slightly as the Chinese government starts to encourage people to come back to work. Yesterday I was looking at a chart of movie goers in South Korea which have plummeted to practically nothing So really it's this piling up of indicators that becomes really really

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