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Little help from local authorities in securing face masks for persons with disabilities in Hong Kong

Old Man in Wheelchair with a woman in HK
Photo: ©Disability Insider

Hong Kong’s disabled residents and their carers say they feel increasingly trapped in their apartments and abandoned by authorities as the coronavirus-struck city is engulfed with panic-buying and face mask shortages, reports.

For the last fortnight, queues have sprung up across the densely-packed business hub as Hong Kongers jostle for the latest delivery of face masks, toilet rolls and cleaning products. Diagnosed with muscular atrophy 14 years ago, Yan uses a wheelchair to get around. He has tried to find face masks near his apartment but has only succeeded once in the last month, queuing for six hours to get his hands on five free masks. “It exhausted me,” Yan told AFP. “I dared not move, fearing that I might lose my spot.”

With just 40 masks at home to share among him, his wife and teenage son, Yan has started cutting back on going out in public, including to his regular medical check-ups. Public hospitals have stopped supplying masks to visiting patients to save vital equipment for staff in a city where more than 60 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Despite being one of the richest cities in the world, Hong Kong has a profound wealth gap and a limited safety net for society’s most vulnerable.

Of the nearly 600,000 people in the city with disabilities, a third live below the poverty line according to government data. Some 200,000 people also act as carers.

Lam Chun, 64, looks after her 19-year-old nephew full time. He has Pradar-Willis syndrome — a genetic disorder that makes the person feel constantly hungry and often leads to diabetes and obesity.

When she goes out to get groceries, she relies on a makeshift cloth mask to cover her face, even though it offers limited protection. “I always miss the information about masks because I don’t really know how to get online,” Lam said, noting how many Hong Kongers find out about restocked pharmacies through Facebook or family.

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