World Feared China Over Coronavirus. Now the Tables Are Turned.

The city, with a population of seven million, has avoided total shutdowns, even as the virus peaked in mainland China. But this week Hong Kong moved to tighten its borders as it recorded a significant uptick in infections, most of them imported. The authorities are investigating five cases linked to Lan Kwai Fong, a nightlife area that is thronged with expatriates on weekends.

Many of those who recently returned to China might have predicted just such a cluster. They see in the United States and Europe a greater urge to go it alone — and studies have found that Americans and Europeans tend to focus on the individual rather than what’s interconnected.

Ms. Lyu, 24, and her roommate in New York, Tianran Qian, 23 — who flew back to their homes in Hangzhou, in eastern China — said they found the American response disorienting. They had both been reading about outbreak clusters around the world for weeks, and for a time they stayed inside and wore masks as they would have at home.

But their American friends continued to socialize, describing the virus as little more than the flu. “On your phone, you see what’s happening around the world, in Japan and Korea, and when you go into real life, people act as if it’s a normal day,” Ms. Lyu said, describing what it was like in New York before she left.

“They either don’t get it or they just ignore it,” Ms. Qian said. “People were so indifferent.”

At home in China, they said, they felt safer. They self-quarantined in their rooms, with their parents leaving food and novels at their bedroom doors.

Their groceries were delivered and even their trash was collected and treated by hospital employees in hazmat suits.

“Everything was planned,” Ms. Lyu said. “We don’t have to worry about everything.”


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