Grocery runs in Asia’s financial powerhouse have begun to remind me of shopping in Russia in the chaotic summer of 1998. You grab what you can find, and if there is a queue, you consider joining it. Surgical masks and sanitizer gel are bartered for; detergent shelves are bare. A run on toilet paper last week, after an online rumor, was reminiscent of Venezuela.
Crowds are irrational everywhere, and social media hardly helps. Yet the palpable anxiety in coronavirus-hit Hong Kong these days suggests worrying levels of distrust in a city where citizens have always expected private enterprise at least, if not the state, to keep things ticking over. Both have failed miserably, preparing inadequately even after the SARS outbreak that killed almost 300 people in the city in 2003.