Coronavirus Masks – A HongKonger’s Experience in Germany

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Do you wear face masks during the Coronavirus outbreak? As a Hong Kong woman who lives in Germany, I followed the news about Coronavirus closely in both Hong Kong and Germany. There are some differences in mentality between the two countries, especially regarding the face masks. In this post, I will share my experience and opinion regarding the Coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong and in Germany.

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I first saw the news about Coronavirus in Wuhan, China back in December 2019. Back then, I was not paying too much attention to the news. It was not until January 2020 when it started to catch my attention. Even though I have been living in Germany for ten years now, I read the news in Hong Kong daily. Hong Kong is still my hometown and I want to keep myself updated about what is going on there.

I started to feel concerned when I heard about the first Coronavirus case in Hong Kong in January. This reminded me of the SARS outbreak back in 2003.

The SARS outbreak in Hong Kong

SARS is a severe acute respiratory syndrome. I still remember the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003. I was a teenager at that time. It was a big deal in Hong Kong. What I remember is that people were wearing masks, schools were closed, infected people were put in quarantine…

SARS was highly infectious. I remember that there was someone who was infected and later on, many others who lived in the same building got the disease as well. It was believed that the virus was transmitted through the ventilation in the bathroom as the ventilation was connected from one flat to the others. Our aunt, who lived near the affected area, moved to live with us temporarily to avoid getting the infection.

Despite all of these, I didn’t really care about SARS. Come on. I was a teenager at that time. I was young and stupid. Sickness and death were all too far away from me. I still went out all the time without wearing a face mask. My mom was complaining but I didn’t care. It was not “cool” to wear a face mask.

Even though the schools were closed during SARS, it didn’t impact me much because I was on study leave already at that time to prepare a very important public exam. The only impact that had on me was that we were required to wear a face mask during our English oral exam. It was not nice because it was harder to understand others when everyone’s mouth was covered by a face mask.

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Coronavirus in Hong Kong

Starting in January 2020, I kept following the news about Coronavirus in Hong Kong. I heard that people were put in quarantine, schools were closed, people had to work from home, most people started wearing face masks… I was pregnant at that time. Even though I was in Germany, I started to be very worried. Back then, I didn’t know any German people who were worried about the Coronavirus. They thought that the Coronavirus was far away from Germany and had nothing to do with them.

I was not thinking that way though, especially because it was Chinese New year in January. It means that many Chinese people who live in Germany go back to China for the festival. And I couldn’t stop worrying that some of them would get infected when they returned back to Germany.

I was on maternity leave already in January. So, I didn’t really go out of my house. However, I still didn’t feel safe because my husband still went to work and my older daughter still went to the nursery. In case one of them got the coronavirus, I would likely be infected. Back then, there was not so much information about coronavirus’s impact on pregnant women or newborns.

I believed that the Coronavirus was going to get to Germany. I didn’t know when that would be, but it was just a matter of time when Germany also had to close all the schools and so on…

Read also: Making a Will in Germany – Why I Did It Already in My 30s

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Coronavirus in Germany

It was not until almost March 2020 that the German people started to feel concerned about the Coronavirus. I was quite “lucky” because my second daughter was born at the beginning of March. The hospital still allowed visitors at the time and my husband was with me during and after birth.

On 11th March 2020, our daycare center (KITA) told us that they had a suspected case in their center. We stopped bringing our daughter to the KITA afterward and it was announced in Bayern that all schools and KITA had to be closed starting on the 16th March. The closure was planned until the 19th of April 2020 after the Easter holiday. However, I do not believe that the schools would be open by then.

In Hong Kong, the schools have been closed since January 2020 and the government has recently announced that they would extend the closure period until further notice. It means that the schools in Hong Kong will not be open after the Easter holiday and nobody knows when they will be open again.

The schools in Hong Kong have been closed for more than two months now! How would we think that our schools in Germany will be closed for six weeks only? For sure all these won’t be over in mid-April and the school closures in Germany will likely be extended…

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Coronavirus – Face masks

In Hong Kong, we have a culture of wearing face masks since the SARS outbreak. During the SARS outbreak, most people were wearing face masks when they were in public areas. After the outbreak, it is not uncommon to see people wearing face masks, especially when they are sick.

Back in January 2020, there was a shortage of face masks in Hong Kong due to the Coronavirus outbreak and many Hong Kong people tried to buy face masks from overseas. I got a message from an old classmate in Hong Kong whom I didn’t talk to for more than ten years. All of a sudden, she wrote to me and asked if I could buy face masks in Germany and ship them to her in Hong Kong.

I did try to help her and looked in DM and online in Germany. However, I was shocked to see that all the face masks were already sold out in January! I tried to look again every other day without success. There were rumors that the Chinese people already bought all the face masks in Germany (and other countries) for their families back home!

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Different mentality – Hong Kong vs. Germany

Attitude towards face masks

Wearing face masks to protect oneself and the others is something very natural for me. Actually, I thought it was common sense to do so. I guess I thought like that because of the lesson we learned from the SARS outbreak. What I didn’t realize is that the mentality towards face masks is completely different in Germany (and other western countries).

Discrimination in Germany

Since the beginning of 2020, I kept hearing from other Chinese people that they were discriminated in public areas when they wore face masks. It was much frowned upon when someone wore a face mask. It seemed like the people in Germany were so angry to see someone wearing a face mask. Some Chinese people with face masks reported that they were insulted by the others in the metro station. Some even said that they were attacked because of wearing a face mask.

It was hard for me to believe all of these. Why were the people angry? I couldn’t see how these Chinese people affected the others by wearing face masks! Later on, I thought I knew why. It was the media in Germany which promoted that face masks were useless. The official advice in Germany or from WHO was that one should wash his hands thoroughly and wearing face masks was not going to help to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Some even said that wearing face masks would increase the risk of infection.

What? I just couldn’t understand how the official advice in Germany could be completely different than those in Asia! In Hong Kong (and many other Asian countries), we were strongly advised to wear face masks in public areas. When all these people in the media are health experts, why are they suggesting something completely different?

Read more: Water in Germany: Dealing with hard water

I trust our health experts in Hong Kong

Okay, I am not a health expert. But I choose to believe in what our experts in Hong Kong said. Because that is what we learned from the SARS experience. In Germany, the advice was that you should only wear a face mask when you are ill. However, since the incubation period of the Coronavirus can be 14 days, how would someone know that he is actually not infected? If a person goes out during his incubation period without a face mask, he can infect all the others around him. Therefore, in my opinion, wearing a face mask can only help but not hurt.

One belief is that the media gave this advice in Germany so that the people would not panic buy the face masks in Germany, which would cause a shortage for the medical staff who had a more urgent need for the face masks. This seems to be the only logical explanation I can find…

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Coronavirus is just a cold!?

Another shock I had in Germany was that I have heard many German people saying that Coronavirus was just a cold and they didn’t understand why we Chinese people were so afraid about it. Okay, most people said that before the Coronavirus got serious in Germany (before March 2020).

I was just shocked by this attitude as I don’t think anybody in Hong Kong would say that Coronavirus was “just a cold”. Later on, I realized that the German people said so mostly also because of their media. Basically, their media told them that Coronavirus is like a cold. Yes, it is right in some cases. But would all the countries close their borders and put people in quarantine when it is just a cold? For me, it is more serious than that. Again, maybe the media doesn’t want to cause panic in the country…

In February 2020, I also read in forums that many people in Germany were asking if they should cancel their planned flight and vacation. And to my surprise, most replies suggested that they should just go on with their vacation because Coronavirus was “just a cold” and only affected old and people with pre-condition.

I found it very selfish to think like that. Yes, young people may not have a big issue if they get infected. But they can infect many others around them who may be old and weak and these people can die from the Coronavirus!

Fortunately, I think the attitude has changed now since the lockdown in Germany. People who did not believe that it was serious have to take it seriously now when they see the whole world has locked down…

Read more: How to maintain a long-distance relationship?

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The future?

Face masks

The attitude towards face masks may change in western countries in the future. I can see some people in Germany gradually accept using face masks. You may even see some German people wearing face masks now in public areas like supermarkets. Some cities like Jena now even required everyone to wear face masks in public areas! I guess once the Coronavirus is over, people in the West would probably change their attitude towards face masks, just like how we learned it after our SARS outbreak.

Home office

Everyone in Germany has to do home office now when they can. For companies and employees who were not used to doing home office before, this can be a good opportunity to test it out to see if home office works.

Actually, not everyone is desperate because of the lockdown. I know people who actually enjoy it because they can now stay and work at home together with their partner, saving a lot of cost and time on transportation.

The same is happening in Hong Kong. The concept of home office did not exist before the Coronavirus outbreak. And until now, people in Hong Kong have been working from home for some months. This may change our working culture in the future that more companies may allow home office when they see that home office actually works. This may be a positive impact left from the Coronavirus outbreak.

Read more: Salary in Germany: Are you getting paid enough?

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Hygiene awareness

People in Germany may become more aware of hygiene after their learning from Coronavirus. They may wash their hands more often, wear face masks when they are sick, and they may even change how they greet each other in the future! Instead of handshaking and hugging, maybe they will just wave their hands to each other instead. By the way, waving our hands is how we greet each other in Hong Kong.

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When will this be over?

No one can predict when the Coronavirus crisis will be over. We all hope that things go back to normal soon and we can have our life back. I think this will take at least some months, if not more, to return back to normal. In the meantime, we should think about it positively:

You are bored?

You now finally have the time to learn a new skill, like you always wanted! Learn a new language online, practice your musical instruments or do your sport!

Your kid cannot go to school?

Perfect time for bonding! You won’t have so many opportunities again to spend that much time with your kid once he goes back to school.

You are stuck at home?

Finally, you have time to work on your garden and tidy up your basement!

You cannot meet anyone?

Perfect time to call or have a video chat with your family back home more often!

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How does the Coronavirus crisis affect you? How are you dealing with it? Do you wear face masks? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

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About the author

Originally from Hong Kong, Sindy spent 13 years in Germany before moving to the US. Her blog is your ultimate resource for navigating Germany, offering pro tips on bureaucracy, job hunting, education, culture, family life, and more.

With a "been there, done that" attitude, Sindy, a certified public accountant, draws on her extensive finance and accounting background to provide professional insights with a friendly touch.

Having navigated German life with her German husband and raising two kids there, Sindy brings a personal touch to her advice. Let this blog help fellow expats like you navigate the ins and outs of life in Germany!

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2 Replies to “Coronavirus Masks – A HongKonger’s Experience in Germany”

  1. I loved reading it as it all makes sense to me. We have same issue here as well in Australia. Media and doctors here are saying the same thing that masks won’t do anything, only wear them if you are feeling sick but everyone is forgetting about the incubation period. Reason here is same I think shortage of supply for the health care professionals.

  2. Hi thank you for this informative article. I myself have had the flu for 4 weeks now and because I am still blowing my nose and coughing I wear a mask to protect others and myself because I can’t afford to get anything else at my age (69). I get some strange looks but even so people are not keeping the required distance. I have to actually tell them I am sick and would they please move back.

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