In Hong Kong, pro-democracy advocates continue to protest against China’s oversight, many wearing medical masks to hide their identity during protests. But in the face of a rapidly expanding global outbreak of the coronavirus, supplies are running out.
In turn, prices for masks have surged in Hong Kong due to the overwhelming demand.
Since the Hong Kong government has not stabilized the price of masks, a Chicago-based organization has been collecting and shipping out crates of masks worth more than $20,000 to Hong Kong, according to the group’s organizer M.H., who requested to be referred to by his initials for fear of retribution.
Once the supplies reach their destination, pro-democracy protesters will be able to sell the masks at a much lower price so people who lost their jobs due to protests will have affordable access “whilst the donated masks will go to frontliners,” according to M.H.
“People line up overnight to buy two boxes of masks … without knowing the quality of the mask,” said M.H., a lighting engineer in Chicago and contact between the U.S group and the Hong Kong protesters.
Many of the Chicago-based volunteers sending supplies are from Hong Kong. The group, a faction broken off from the. organization Global Solidarity with Hong Kong, has been supporting the pro-democracy movement from afar by sending supplies and equipment intermittently from the Urban Voice Community Church in Bridgeport.
The shortage of masks has primarily affected Hong Kong and China, but its effects have been felt across the world, reaching major American cities like Chicago, which has also had two reported cases of the coronavirus.
Ed Abderholden, a cashier at Ace Hardware, 725 S. State St., said the store has run out of stock of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved respirators, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared for “public health medical emergencies.”
“We had a shipment come in over the weekend of about 30 boxes [containing] 10 masks each, and somebody came in and bought all of them,” Abderholden said. “We tried to reorder, and the warehouse is completely empty for the Midwest region for Ace Hardware.”
M.H. said the mask shortage has caused significant unrest among the general population, with some people banging on the doors of stores that have closed due to the shortage.
“The first level is to get as many masks to Hong Kong as possible for the people in need,” M.H. said. “The second level of doing this is to enhance the Yellow Economic Circle.”
Since June 2019, many Hong Kong businesses have been labeled as “yellow” or “blue”—either by themselves or consumers—to denote if they are pro-democracy or pro-government, respectively. These identifications help protestors choose which businesses, and ultimately which movement, to support, as reported Friday, Dec. 13, 2019, by the Diplomat, a current affairs magazine.
M.H. has hired individuals in Hong Kong who have lost their jobs due to their participation in the pro-democracy movement to help re-sell supplies on the ground.
“If the masks are all shipped to one place, the cost is drastically reduced,” M.H said. “So we are helping both sides and both parties through this consultative shipment.”