Of all the places in the world to ride out the coronavirus crisis, I can think of few better than Hong Kong. Yes, its government has made a few mistakes , most prominent among them a lack of preparedness in crucial areas. But Hongkongers are a tough and critical lot and the errors have been swiftly pointed out and, often enough, rectified. Put my predilection down to experiences with previous health emergencies, good infrastructure and a population with a spirit grounded in self-preservation. Hong Kong stands out, along with Singapore and Macau, as having relatively low rates of infection, despite their proximity to mainland China and large number of travellers. The surge of returnees from Covid-19-hit parts of Europe and North America are dramatically altering case numbers as the wave of carriers among them show positive test results. A debacle over tracking bracelets given to arrivals that did not work is the latest show of unpreparedness, but it is just a minor misstep. The city will remain a beacon of know-how because its people are used to having to fend for themselves in times of need and have the wherewithal to be prepared. From the earliest signs of the disease in Wuhan, in December, Hongkongers were readying themselves for the worst. A number already had stocks of face masks from months of confrontation with police during democracy protests. Face mask culture during the coronavirus: East vs West The severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003 that began in southern China and claimed 299 lives in the city had shown the worth of cleanliness, hand washing and sanitiser. By the time the first coronavirus cases were confirmed on January 22, panic buttons were being pressed. Calls for border shutdowns with mainland China were swift, but dismissed by Hong Kong authorities. Only on Monday, with the fresh threat from overseas, did Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor order the blocking of tourists, and then for just 14 days. The wisdom of the government’s decision to ban the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants under the misguided belief that getting tipsy is the only reason for people to gather in such places raises further questions about its competency. Similarly, I wonder just how professional the people in charge of our public health system are. As the initial failures in Wuhan and the disciplining of the late whistle-blower doctor Li Wenliang would appear to show, loyalty to the Communist Party by officials was far more important than preventing a disease outbreak. But Hong Kong citizens are made of stern stuff. What the government won’t do, they will; mask-wearing has become second nature and many people carry a bottle or two of disinfectant everywhere. Hand-washing is now a fastidious pastime. People have been keeping their distance in shops and restaurants and on public transport. Try to go somewhere without wearing a mask and you will be glared at or a passer-by will press one into your hand. Face mask culture during the coronavirus: East vs West Weeks of working from home and school closures inevitably means that cabin fever has set in for many, along with a measure of complacency . But the dramatic jump in the number of cases with the arrival of returnees has injected a fresh sense of vigilance. Schools will remain closed indefinitely , civil servants are working from home again and with cases found in bars and gyms , most patrons have been staying away, negating the need for the total lockdowns that have become so prevalent elsewhere. When I visited the Australian city of Melbourne last month, residents I spoke to laughed at the scramble of Hongkongers for face masks and hand sanitiser. I imagine people in Italy, Spain, France, Britain and other now hard-hit countries were also similarly amused. Now, in the thick of a health crisis, they are regretting their lack of preparation. Hong Kong has learned a lot, but it has much more to do. Near-empty hotels can be used for self-isolation. Small flats and a lack of urban green spaces in so cramped a city makes social distancing a near-impossibility. But even with the challenges, I’m certain that Hong Kong will safely navigate the crisis and rebound stronger. Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.