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Covid-19 Deepens Divides Between Local Hongkongers and Expats

Chloe Tse April 14, 2020

When COVID-19 initially affected Hong Kong, many wealthy expats who had the means to travel escaped to the United States and Europe to avoid the epidemic. However, as COVID-19 continued to transmit between borders, countries, and continents, the virus became a pandemic that also affected the Western hemisphere as well. In the past month, hundreds of expats returned to Hong Kong after COVID-19 cases in North America and Europe have continued to rise, whereas the situation in China and Hong Kong have begun to stabilize. This was notable when hundreds rushed back to the city to avoid the March 19 government deadline, where all international arrivals had to self-quarantine for 14 days. The sudden surge of arrivals doubled the number of cases in Hong Kong, which was a shocking spike after Hong Kong had initially managed to contain the spread of the virus. Hong Kong airport on March 18, 2020 (TPG/Getty Images) Blame Game: Expatriates Unsurprisingly, the increase in cases was disheartening to many who believed Hong Kong was close to overcoming COVID-19, causing new tensions to arise. This newfound resentment has been directed towards expats accused of complacency during the health crisis, especially since locals are cracking down on cavalier attitudes of foreigners. “These expats decided to run when they didn’t like what was going on in Hong Kong, and then when it ended up in their countries they run back again,” Gary Stokes, the owner of Hemingway’s bar in Discovery Bay, expressed to the Hong Kong Free Press.

On social media, photos of expats disregarding social distancing measures by gathering in Lan Kwai Fong, or nonchalantly walking around with quarantine bracelets have circulated around the city. These posts have sparked fury among those who sacrificed and devoted their efforts to stop this outbreak, as they fear that their hard work will be reversed. Carrie Lam, the governor of Hong Kong, said, “To anyone who intends to breach the quarantine orders, anyone who still wants to go out and meet up with friends, can you not be restrained for some more time so Hong Kong can win this battle?” A Facebook post that attracted momentum wrote, “Please do not take away all we have worked for over the last two months … It’s now your turn to be community-minded. Stay home.”

Moreover, local Hongkongers have embraced wearing masks. However, in crowded areas such as the Central Business District or Causeway Bay, those who do not are mostly Westerners. Many expats have been urging others in their community to take on this sanitary protocol as well. They emphasize that it is not only to prevent themselves from contracting this virus, but it is also to reassure others that they are taking precautionary measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. Unfairly Targeted? On the other hand, expats believe they have been unfairly targeted, noting that the anger directed towards them is primarily fear-based. An expat told the South China Morning Post that he is still embracing the nightlife culture to support small businesses that still have overhead costs they need to account for. He also notes that it is safer to gather in public areas where businesses will take hygienic precautions, as opposed to private settings, such as house parties. Works Cited Leung, Hillary. “H.K. Sees Record Rise in Coronavirus Cases as New Wave Hits Asia.” Time, Time, 20 Mar. 2020, Marlow, Iain, and Bei Hu. “Hong Kong Expats Point Fingers Over Who’s Spreading Coronavirus.”, Bloomberg, 24 Mar. 2020, 12:00 GMT,


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