The only major museum in Hong Kong to stay open over the last few weeks of the coronavirus crisis has suffered a collapse in visitor numbers. Bosses at the privately owned Hong Kong Maritime Museum in Central have refused to shut the waterfront attraction, calling their decision a “vote for Hong Kong”. But they welcomed just 3,800 people from January 1 to February 23, down 78 per cent from the same period last year, even with all government-run rivals closed since late January. Museum director Richard Wesley said fewer than 30 people a day visited the 45,000 sq ft site in February as the Covid-19 epidemic and anti-government protests sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill took their toll. “Since June last year, there has been a sharp slide in visitation,” he told the Post. “Obviously with the civil disorder, then the coronavirus, visitations basically collapsed.” The museum, which operates as a charity, was established in 2005 through donations from the shipping industry. It was housed in Murray House in Stanley from 2005 and charts the long history of commercial shipping in and around Hong Kong. In 2013, it moved to a bigger space at Pier 8, Central, attracting 100,000 visitors annually. Some 8,000 people visited the museum in February last year but attendance since February 1 this year was just 600. Hong Kong’s civil servants to head back to offices from next Monday Wesley said they carried out a risk assessment last month and decided to stay open seven days a week despite the outbreak. “We are not a major community gathering point. We had 20 or 30 people coming a day,” he said. “In any given time, there are only three or four people in the museum. So the risk of exposure is very limited.” The museum is the only major one in the city still opening its doors to the public since January 29. All those run by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department are closed until further notice. William Waung Sik-ying, a member of the museum’s board, said it was balancing health considerations with its mission of serving the public. “It’s a vote for Hong Kong,” said Waung, who is a retired High Court judge. “To put things in perspective, the buses haven’t stopped running, the MTR hasn’t stopped running,” said Wesley, adding the situation was being monitored on a daily basis. Coronavirus now a pandemic claims Hong Kong medical expert “The shops haven’t closed, the life of the city continues, and the government makes the city a lot safer through its efforts. We just made our decision like a lot of restaurants and shops.” “At this stage, the city hasn’t shut down. The easiest option is to close everything down but that’s not good enough,” said Wesley, who is a cultural-heritage professional from Australia. “If there is a big outbreak in Hong Kong, then of course we will review our case,” he added. Joseph Wong, one of the few visitors at the museum on Monday afternoon, said he did not see any huge risks because there were not many people in the spacious venue. “I think the government had overreacted by closing all museums earlier,” he said. The annual operating expenses of the museum are HK$20 million (US$2.6 million), of which HK$6 million is subvention from the government.