Hongkongers have queued overnight outside pharmacies to buy surgical face masks amid a citywide shortage.

There have been over 7,000 cases of a new coronavirus with 170 deaths in China, and 10 confirmed cases in Hong Kong as of Wednesday. Residents have been stockpiling masks in response to the outbreak.


Chain pharmacy Watsons – owned by Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing – said on its Facebook page on Wednesday that each of its 230 branches would provide around 20 packs of 50 surgical masks on Thursday, and a quota system would be in place for each customer. More sanitation products will arrive in early February, the post added.

“Please take care of your health. We suggest that you not queue overnight or in the early morning to avoid forming crowds, which will increase health risks,” it read.

The post received more than 10,000 likes.

Mrs Yuen Watsons
Mrs Yuen.

Some queued overnight for the product despite the warning. At the Jubilant Place housing estate in To Kwa Wan, Mrs Yuen said she had waited outside Watsons since 4am on Thursday, according to Apple Daily.

She told the newspaper that she only has a few masks left and had to buy a new pack.

“I can’t risk buying masks from unknown sources – it is not safe to buy masks from the mainland,” she said.

Watsons Mong Kok
Watsons branch in Mong Kok.

Yuen said the Hong Kong government had not done enough to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The government only told residents to not to go outside – should we just wait and die at home? It should have closed the border sooner. Now we don’t know how many people have been infected,” she said.

Ms Leung.

At a Watsons branch on Jordan Road, several people waited for the shop to open since the early hours. Ms Leung, a student, began queuing at around 5am and said that her stock of masks could only last for two more days.

“I haven’t been able to buy [masks]. Mine are designed for children,” she said.

At a branch in Tin Shui Wai, some residents became agitated after all 20 tokens allotted to waiting customers were given out, RTHK reported. They were filmed swearing at staff members and pushing the store shutter.

The atypical form of pneumonia was first detected in Wuhan, China. It bears symptoms similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed over 300 people in Hong Kong in 2003.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.