The 2020 Coronavirus pandemic feels like it has consumed our lives. As I think back it seems like something that's been a part of my daily life since the Chinese New Year in late January.

There's a lot of finger pointing by politicians, political groups and individuals looking to avoid responsibility for the massive economic damage and hundreds of thousands of deaths that were likely entirely preventable.

From the media noise coming out of Western Europe & the USA, many of you could be forgiven for thinking that this novel coronavirus appeared sometime in February or March with little warning, released on an unsuspecting world by a supposedly evil China without so much as a warning. You might even be under the impression that Taiwan figured things out back in December but no one would listen to them. With so many groups out there shouting back and forth trying use this crisis to forward their personal and political causes, it can get hard to even remember the facts.

Take me as an example. This morning, I was searching for pandemic restaurant regulations in the Hong Kong Gazette and was shocked to see legislation regarding the novel coronavirus gazetted on January 6th. This was weeks before the Wuhan lockdown and a long time before I even remember the virus as A Thing (let alone when I started taking the virus seriously).

Curious as to what else I’d forgotten, I started digging through my chat logs, tweets and historical news sources to reconstruct a timeline of events from my vantage point. January 24th was when my first clear memory of coronavirus as Something Big occurring, so events in my timeline starting on the 24th are those I remember with dates verified by other sources. I backfilled events that happened before the 24th to really get a feel for what was happening while I wasn’t paying attention. While I went through this process for myself, I’ve shared the timeline at the bottom of the post for your reference. The process led me to a few conclusions, which I’ll share along with other observations in a moment. But first, let me update you on what’s going on in Hong Kong:

What’s happening in Hong Kong

  • Today (Sunday, April 26) was the 3rd day this week with no confirmed cases - imported or local.
  • Anyone testing positive for the virus is put into a negative pressure hospital isolation room.
  • All close contacts of anyone testing positive are put into government quarantine centers.
  • Non-residents are banned from entry.
  • All returning residents from overseas are tested for the virus. They have to wait in the testing center until they receive their results. Those who test negative undergo 14-day home quarantine. Those who test positive go into a hospital isolation room.
  • All arrivals from mainland China, Taiwan and Macau are put under mandatory 14-day home quarantine. Those with entry permits valid for stays of less than 14-days are denied entry. Almost all mainland Chinese have only 7-day entry permits, so they are all denied entry resulting in border that is effectively closed for non-residents.
  • Government civil servants are working from home and only essential government services are available.
  • Many businesses have asked employees to work from home, but this is entirely voluntary on the part of the businesses.
  • Bars, gyms and a number of other recreational businesses are closed.
  • Stores and restaurants are open, but restaurants have to keep tables 1.5 meters apart, test customer temperatures and customers have to wear masks.
  • Groups of four or more are banned in public places.
  • Mask wearing is almost universal, a voluntary behavior that the vast majority people have been following since January.
  • Masks are expensive, but not regulated and widely available.
  • Even real estate agents and private clubs have started selling masks on the side.

Observations & conclusions

  • Anyone that’s trying to blame some other country or the WHO for their own response should grow up and take responsibility for their own actions. Yes, China has a censorship problem among its myriad of political and societal problems. Yes, the WHO doesn’t always give good advice and sometimes even spreads misinformation. However, countries around the world had plenty of time to take action on their own and plenty of other sources of information but instead sat around doing nothing. If they weren’t on friendly terms with China or didn’t trust the WHO, they could at least look at the very public actions taken by Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau during the first week of January and take similar steps to protect their own populations.
  • What’s even more frustrating is that places like the US and Italy took some actions - like evacuating their citizens from Wuhan, or preventing entry of people from Wuhan by plane - but they didn’t follow through with basic steps that should be obvious to anyone - like making sure sick people are isolated from other people so they don’t get others sick and testing people coming across borders. Or making it easy to import masks or produce masks. Or letting their own companies make test kits that worked.
  • Both leadership and populations in many countries ignored their fellow citizens trying to sound the pandemic alarm such as those in the tech world tweeting about the risk of a possible pandemic and forgoing hand shakes or American Airline pilots suing their employer to prevent them from flying to China.
  • In many cases, places are still not taking basic steps like making sure people who test positive along with their close contacts are isolated from the public and from each other so that the chain of infection is broken.
  • Almost all of the actions that places like Hong Kong and Taiwan took any country could have taken. Most of them don’t rely on the availability of any particular technology or skills. Just leadership and competence.
  • Countries now suffering huge outbreaks could have taken action back in January, but they chose not to. Instead many even tried to dissuaded their populations from voluntarily acting by spreading misinformation.
  • In Hong Kong, people were either calling for or voluntarily taking precautions well in advance of the government making something compulsory.
  • Leaders can do a lot to change behavior without having to resort to laws, regulations and coercion. When the Hong Kong Government required their civil servants to work from home in late January, many other businesses followed their example. It was never compulsory.

My novel coronavirus timeline

  • December 30, 2019 - Rumors of pneumonia of unknown origin start circulating on social media
  • December 31, 2019 - China and Taiwan both notify WHO of a new virus.
  • December 31, 2019 - the Macau Health Bureau (Serviços de Saúde) was notified by China’s National Health Commission of an outbreak of an unknown pneumonia in Wuhan [1]
  • December 31, 2019 - Hong Kong Government holds urgent night-time meeting with official and infectious disease experts about mysterious outbreak of “viral pneumonia” in Wuhan. Increases temperature checks at borders, asks hospitals to report cases, asks that anyone one with fever and acute respiratory illness be put into hospital isolation, ask University of Hong Kong for help to speed up virus genetic tests. [2]
  • January 1, 2020 - Macau started temperature checks for all flights from Wuhan and alerted the public
  • January 3 - Hong Kong raises infectious disease response level to “Serious,” widens reporting criteria to anyone who traveled to Wuhan in the past 14 days and sets
  • January 4 - Hong Kong’s public hospital system shortens visiting hours, requires masks, reports a 3 month supply of personal protection equipment and starts working with suppliers to ensure a stable supply. [3]
  • January 7 - Scientists in China announced discovery of novel coronavirus
  • January 8 - Hong Kong gazetted a change to Cap 599 Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance adding “Severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent (嚴重新型傳染性病原體 呼吸系統病)” to the list of specified diseases to expand their authority to quarantine. It also added the disease to the list of disease reportable by medical practitioners to the Director of Health.
  • January 8 - South Korea announces first possible case
  • January 10 - Gene sequencing data of the virus is posted online
  • January 11 - German scientist develops test kit and sends to Hong Kong and Taiwan where it is verified to work [4]
  • January 13 - Virus genome posted to USA’s NIH database
  • January 16 - Hong Kong University develops a test kit, submits to WHO [5]
  • January 17 - USA’s CDC says it has its own test kit and doesn’t need WHO’s
  • January 20 - China confirms the virus is human-to-human transmissible.
  • January 20 - USA and South Korea announced first confirmed cases
  • January 22 - Macau announced all residents & foreign workers could purchase 10 masks per person per day
  • January 23 - Hong Kong announces first confirmed case
  • January 23 - Local private clubs and many businesses voluntarily start increasing hygiene, requiring staff to wear mask and providing hand sanitizer. [6]
  • January 24 - Macau universities, schools and sports facilities were closed until the second week of Feburary
  • January 24 - In my infinite wisdom, I buy a ticket to CryptoEcon on February 29 in Hanoi, Vietnam.
  • January 24 - I see masks in a 7-11 by my home and buy all them for a friend who is returning to Shenzhen and wants them. This is the last time I see masks on sale at a normal price.
  • January 25 - Chinese New Year's Day
  • January 25 - Hong Kong’s Education Bureau closes schools [7]
  • January 25 - Macau’s main land border crossing with mainland China reduced opening hours
  • January 25 - I arrived in Macau by sea as part of a sailing race
  • January 25 - Hong Kong declares an infectious disease emergency. Announces closure all amusement parts and cancelation of concerts. [8]
  • January 26 - Macau quarantined all travelers that had entered Macaus between December 1 and January 26 from Hubei province- over 1000 people.
  • January 27 - Anyone who had been to Hubei within the previous 14 days could no longer enter Macau without a doctor’s note proving they were free of the novel coronavirus
  • January 27 - I departed Macau for Hong Kong by sea on the second leg of the sailing race
  • January 28 - Macau announced closed border to mainland Chinese visitors
  • January 28 - Hong Kong closes all public sports, recreational & cultural programs. [9]
  • January 29 - Hong Kong civil servants begin what ends up being a month of work-from-home arrangements. Many businesses follow the government’s example and ask their employees to work from home. [10]
  • January 29 - Macau announced that there was no timetable to resume classes
  • January 29 - USA evacuates citizens from Wuhan. [11]
  • January 30 - Hong Kong suspends rail and ferry service to mainland China [12]
  • January 30 - American Airlines pilot union sues the airline to compel the carrier to stop flights to China [13]
  • January 30 - WHO declares global health emergency [14]
  • January 31 - Trump bans restricts entry to USA of non-citizens who had traveled to mainland China within the past 14 days. [15]
  • January 31 - Hong Kong Government issues a tender for more masks [16]
  • January 31 - Singapore Prime Minister advises against wearing masks. [17]
  • January 31 - Italy bans flights from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan[18]
  • February 3 - Thousands of Hong Kong medical personnel go on strike to protest the government’s failure to close the border with mainland China [19]
  • February 8 - Hong Kong starts compulsory quarantine of anyone who has traveled to mainland China in the past 14 days[20] and makes a temporary regulation that makes it an offense to lie or give misleading to a medical practitioner and requires disclosure of information of information related to the public health emergency to health officers. [21]
  • February 12 - Balaji Srinivasan talks about why the virus is likely a serious threat at an Austin Blockstack meetup. He’s wearing a mask and rubber gloves.
  • February 14 - Hong Kong Disneyland lends land to government to build more quarantine facilities [22]
  • February 21 - Italy starts lockdowns in the region near Milan
  • February 21 - Ryan Selkis says he’s going to wear a mask to raise awareness, fight xenophobia (that masks are only for Asians) and inspire people to prepare
  • February 22 - I decide to risk the trip to Hanoi for CryptoEcon and buy a flight on Cathay Dragon to Hanoi, departing February 28 and returning March 4.
  • February 28 - Hong Kong Government opens a HK$1.5 billion scheme to subsidy local mask production.[23]
  • February 28 - I fly to Hanoi, with a mask in my bag, but one of the few not wearing it on the plane. The people in the row behind me, also not wearing masks, are coughing and sneezing. I can feel it on my bald head. I suddenly I become a mask believer
  • February 29 - Cathay Dragon cancels my return flight as demand has dropped off a cliff given the pandemic. I decide to not risk a quarantine and leave earlier.
  • February 29 - US Surgeon General tells people to stop buying masks, they don’t work [24]
  • March 1 - First confirmed cause of Covid-19 announced in New York City [25]
  • March 2 - I fly back to Hong Kong, wearing a mask.
  • March 2 - Hong Kong civil servants return to offices after a month of work-from-home and normal public services resume [26]
  • March 3 - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio encourages New Yorkers to get out on the town despite the coronavirus pandemic. He provides a list of movie suggestions [27]
  • March 16 - I launch my #WearAFuckingMask movement to convince friends and family in the US and Europe to wear masks.
  • March 17 - Several private clubs in Hong Kong voluntarily introduce rules that prohibit entry of anyone who has been outside of Hong Kong in the past 14 days. [28]
  • March 19 - Hong Kong regulation requiring quarantine of people arriving from foreign countries takes effect [29]
  • March 21 - Hong Kong civil servants required to work-from-home again closing non-essential government services [30]
  • March 23 - Hong Kong closes sports and recreational facilities at clubs holding private recreational leases [31]
  • __March 25 - Hong Kong bans entry of all non-residents arriving from overseas, ends transit and adds Macau and Taiwan to mandatory quarantine scheme. It implements mandatory saliva testing of asymptomatic arrivals from the US, UK and Europe.[32]
  • March 28 - Hong Kong requires restaurants to reduce capacity to 50%, separate tables by 1.5 meters, test temperature of patrons and requires customers to wear masks when not eating or drinking and closes gyms and some other recreational venues. [33]
  • March 29 - Hong Kong bans group gatherings of 4 or more persons in public places. [34]
  • April 1 - Hong Kong closes clubs & bars, beauty parlors, karaoke and additional recreational venues. [35]
  • April 21 - Hong Kong extends restrictions on businesses, but removes the 50% capacity restrictions on restaurants given improving situation.[36]
  • April 24 - Hong Kong secondary school students sit their long-delayed university entrance exams with temperature checks, mandatory masks and desks placed far apart in gymnasiums. [37]
  • April 26 - As of publication, Hong Kong has seen the 3rd day in a week of no new Covid-19 cases. Almost all other cases in recent days are imported.[38]

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