Life in Quarantine: Hong Kong New York Times Station Chief on Surviving Coronavirus

By Olivia Bean, Reporter, Montana State News

HONG KONG–“New York Times” Deputy Station Chief in Hong Kong, Doug Schorzman, remarked on what it was like to live under quarantine during a Google Meet interview with a Montana State News reporter. On Feb. 22, Schorzman declared that “life is remarkably unchanged” despite living on a tropical island with the epicenter of the epidemic a mere 500 miles away.

Much closer to Schorzman’s home, a mere 20 miles, the Chinese Guangdong province displays the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, more than 1,300 as of Monday, March 3, according to National Public Radio (NPR) reports. The question remains, how has Hong Kong remained so unchanged, with just under 100 confirmed cases, while the mainland coronavirus ransacked the mainland?

According to NPR, the city paid “a steep cost… Schools are closed. Many businesses are shuttered. All transport to [the] mainland… is suspended, and the border… is essentially shut down.” According to the same resource, the sheer drop in case numbers, relative to mainland China, shows great effectiveness in reducing transmission through that social distancing.

For those in the offices of the “New York Times” international outpost, life has only gotten more exciting. As Schorzman commented, “[I work in] a room full of people who are used to running towards fires” and this blaze has taken the global stage by storm.

The staff takes “basic precautions when you’re in the subway. We…are wearing surgical masks, [and] you just get better about our hand-washing routine. We don’t go to a place where you know you can be exposed unless you have to.” Schorzman said that “We’d never send someone into a situation they’re uncomfortable with,” but that many of his journalists thought it worth the risk.

After so much attention on the world stage, it became a question of how much [coverage] was too much, and whether “The New York Times”  was “over-covering” the topic. While having sensational headlines leads to more readers, Schorzman realized that fanning the fire too much could lead to panic.

The awareness came in the form of his non-local friends, who asked about his two daughters. The friends’ well-founded concern, given the intense pictures posted atop stories of outbreaks in the surrounding provinces, ultimately seemed misguided. When prompted about the conditions, Schorzman deferred to his wife, Jill, who also works for the storied publication, and her response what much the same.

“It’s been kind of wild…,” Jill said, “It’s our kids, [so] when school gets cancelled because of…coronavirus, we’re there living it; it’s not just covering it at a removed state. It’s being caught up in it which is really fascinating.”

They both remarked that COVID-19 did not disrupt the workflow of Hong Kong half as much as the past year of protests over extradition rights did. In regard to both cases, Jill stated that disruption causes stress.

“It’s messed up, and it’s intense, and it could still get worse, but the reality is that Hong Kong still works. (The city is) still going, and there’s a wide enough support for it that [Hong Kong] isn’t shutting down.”

So, for the reporters, the disease continues to fuel the fire, but for the average person, aside from reasonable precautions, the world spins on.

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