SHANGHAI－Instead of queuing outside pharmacies or joining in the shopping frenzy online, foreigners in Shanghai scrambling to buy masks to fight coronavirus could make orders in a more convenient way－by dialing a “mask hotline”.
By calling the Shanghai Call Center at 96-22-88, a dedicated information hotline, foreigners in Shanghai can make inquiries about masks, current coronavirus containment efforts and other epidemic-related details.
The Shanghai Call Center has a history of over 10 years. Around 100,000 foreigners remain in Shanghai amid the coronavirus outbreak. No cases of infection have been reported among them so far.
During the Spring Festival holiday in January, the hotline received thousands of inquiries, most of which were about buying masks.
“When communicating with foreigners, it is very important to speak accurately,” said Sarah Leanne Sharman, a Briton who has worked in Shanghai for five years.
As Sharman can speak both English and Chinese, she is responsible for helping call center agents when they have difficulty in English language communication and understanding.
The 36-year-old has been busy explaining to her Chinese colleagues the proper nouns for coronavirus used by the World Health Organization in the past few days.
Apart from 24-hour English services, the hotline provides services in French, Japanese, German, Russian, Spanish and Arabic. Agents receiving calls will teach foreigners how to make appointments for buying masks at home and how to prepare for materials required for the appointments.
It has been a tough job for a cosmopolitan city like Shanghai to take virus containment measures such as providing citizens with enough masks, considering its population of 24 million.
The local government, enterprises and residents have made great efforts to increase the capacity of mask production.
Shanghai’s municipal government encouraged local mask factories to resume operations and expand capacity, offering financial support such as rent reduction and tax incentives for enterprises that have contributed to the fight against the epidemic.
Some Shanghai residents volunteered to work night shifts for mask factories while enterprises of other industries, including soybean product manufacturers and repurposed workshops, have added new mask production lines.
But instead of scrambling to buy masks and watching TV saturated with coronavirus-related news, what people affected by the epidemic really want is for the fight against the coronavirus to see a turnaround, life to return to normal and to finally enjoy a deep breath outdoors without masks.
China’s daily new confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection outside Hubei, the epicenter province of the outbreak, had dropped for 14 consecutive days to March 3, but experts remained cautious, calling for continuing efforts to strengthen coronavirus research and containment.
Like many foreigners in Shanghai, Sharman’s life was also disrupted by the epidemic. She now works one in every three days and cooks for herself as most places nearby are closed. Because of the epidemic, she also has not been able to walk her dog as much as before.
“For me, the first thing I will do after the epidemic is to go out for dinner and take my dog to the park,” said Sharman.