TTG freelancer Sara Macefield disembarked a Celebrity Cruises’ sailing in Hong Kong this week as the territory responded to coronavirus fears. She explains what it was like to be a tourist on the ground...
My original thoughts about returning to Hong Kong last weekend, nearly 30 years after I first visited, had been focused on the student protests. Would our overnight stop in the city aboard Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Millennium be marred by pitched battles and teargas?
As a journalist I was more intrigued than apprehensive, but it became clear as we docked last Sunday that the Chinese territory was facing a different type of battle on its streets.
The rampaging spread of the infectious coronavirus from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where it originated, was already causing shockwaves after claiming a handful of victims here in Hong Kong.
Before docking, a letter from Celebrity Millennium’s captain had been delivered to cabins explaining the situation and advising on protective measures to guard against infection. Anyone with symptoms was urged to visit the ship’s medical centre for a free examination.
Upon disembarking, Hong Kong’s Kai Tak cruise terminal felt more like a decontamination zone as lines of facemask-clad officials impassively watched us walk past.
Wall posters, in English and Chinese, warned of the dangers of communicable diseases and a sign instructed us to remove hats as an infra-red camera recorded everyone’s body temperature. An abnormally high reading could be a giveaway sign of the coronavirus.
A uniformed official handed out facemasks, and it was clear once we reached the city’s streets that this was no overreaction as nearly everyone else was similarly protected.
Despite this, I didn’t feel the need to cover up, though I couldn’t resist trying the mask on for a few photos. It felt hot and claustrophobic though, and I couldn’t wait to take it off. However, as my friend and I entered Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) subway system, we stood out as a tiny minority with uncovered faces.
Our MTR journeys during Sunday and Monday were accompanied by frequent announcements urging travellers to be vigilant with personal hygiene. Aside from that, life in the city appeared to be continuing as normal, though roads and markets were quieter than usual due to the Chinese New Year holiday.
The panic over coronavirus overshadowed fears of student demonstrations as most locals were avoiding public gatherings due to the infection risk, though a letter from Celebrity’s captain urged guests to be vigilant and gave tips on how to best avoid difficult situations.
It was a sobering reminder to stay vigilant, but we didn’t feel at risk on either front, and neither did fellow passengers.
As one said later: “We knew Celebrity wouldn’t put us in any danger.”
Sara Macefield is a cruise specialist who has been writing about the travel industry for TTG for more than 20 years.