Taiwan and Hong Kong were once named in the same breath as examples of successfully controlling the spread of coronavirus, but their paths have now begun to fork.
Despite its geographical proximity to China, the original epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, Taiwan still has only had 455 confirmed cases and 7 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, on Sunday, the 19th of July, Hong Kong surpassed 100 new infections in a day and is now faced by its third and most serious wave of COVID-19 cases.
In Hong Kong, the public’s perception of what is safe and unsafe has deteriorated since our last poll in June. Back then, as COVID restrictions were loosened, Hong Kong respondents were split in half between those who felt safe trying to live their lives as closely as possible to how they were before the pandemic (51%) and those did not (49%). In our latest poll, now that restrictions are being reintroduced, we found that the mood has significantly soured: 69% of Hong Kong respondents now say they do not feel safe trying to live their life as normal.
Meanwhile, our latest poll in Taiwan found that 72% of Taiwanese say that they try to live their life as close as possible to how it was before the coronavirus pandemic, almost the inverse of the Hong Kong results.
Whereas 76% of Hong Kong respondents say they feel, at least, ‘reasonably at risk’ of catching coronavirus when eating at a restaurant, 72% of Taiwanese respondents say they feel, at most, ‘somewhat at risk’ of catching the virus in the same situation. This difference is likely a reflection of Taiwan never having fully stopped activities such as eating out as a result of their early closing of borders and successful track and trace operation. Consequently, activities that became impossible in other parts of the continued normally in Taiwan. However, it is noteworthy that a notable percentage of Taiwanese respondents still do not feel safe partaking in this activity despite the low number of cases in the country.
When asked about a range of activities from going shopping, leaving their home, walking down the street, to meeting with a friend, a majority of Hong Kong respondents in every case say they feel unsafe, suggesting public mood is now particularly gloomy. For example, 66% in Hong Kong say they feel unsafe leaving their home at all.
Meanwhile, virtually the same proportion of Taiwanese respondents (65%) felt safe rather than unsafe when leaving their home, again representing a mirror image of the figures in Hong Kong.
The same trend can be seen with grocery shopping. Taiwanese respondents are far more confident about the safety of shopping for groceries. 62% of Hong Kong residents feel unsafe shopping for groceries. The opposite is the case in the Taiwan. 70% of Taiwanese respondents feel comfortable going grocery shopping.
More interestingly, aven though 70% of Taiwanese feel safe doing their grocery shopping, 45% of respondents said they still feel somewhat at risk of catching the virus while they shop and just 35% say they are not at all at risk. By comparison, 9% of Hong Kong residents responding to our poll said they did not feel at all at risk when shopping for groceries.
Therefore, while the Taiwanese therefore do seem mostly comfortable living their lives as close as possible to how it was before the pandemic, they appear more cautious about other activities than might be expected, given their low case load and low level of community transmission. This level of caution, of course, is dramatically less than that in Hong Kong.
Such cautious attitudes are likely one major reason behind both Hong Kong and Taiwan’s success in combatting the virus. Their responses have been shaped by the experience of the SARS epidemic which caused the Government and citizenry to be more prepared and alert when Covid-19 appeared. In Taiwan, mask wearing and quarantine for incoming passengers were implemented faster than anywhere in the West, and its borders remain closed to non-citizens. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, public pressure induced the Government to close its border with mainland China.
In both countries, this vigilance manifests itself through a high level of self-reported mask wearing. In June we reported that 74% of Hong Kong respondents always wear a mask when leaving their home, influenced not necessarily by government orders but by the memory of the SARS epidemic. Masks are, in fact, now mandatory in indoor spaces, perhaps somewhat driving the slight increase in those reporting that they always wear a mask when leaving their home, a figure which now stands at 78%.
Meanwhile, 66% of Taiwanese say they wear a mask ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’ when they leave the house. This lower level compared to Hong Kong shows that while Taiwan is still being vigilant, there exists a far greater level of caution in Hong Kong, which physically borders China and is now seeing a spike in cases.
Altogether, our results suggest the public in Hong Kong and Taiwan, in spite of the differing severity of their situations, are both taking the coronavirus situation extremely seriously. In Taiwan, where cases are notably low, there is a high degree of caution. Hong Kong, meanwhile, now sees a public highly alarmed at the recent spike of a few hundred cases, figures that pale in comparison to what is reported daily in other countries we have polled.