In new vending machines that will soon be installed in neighborhoods in Hong Kong, low-income residents will be able to pick up sets of free face masks to help protect them from COVID-19. “Our goal is to make things as easy and convenient as possible for low-income families and disadvantaged groups, allowing them to get these much-needed medical face masks while still maintaining social distancing,” says Adrian Cheng, the CEO of the development and investment company New World Development, which pivoted to manufacturing masks earlier in the year and is now working with nonprofits to place 35 of the new vending machines throughout the city.
Although Hong Kong had managed to contain the new coronavirus earlier in the year, there has been a surge in cases as residents have traveled back from other parts of the world. “While it’s alarming to see the virus return, we are applying all the key learnings from our first fight in an effort to proactively contain these new cases and avert another widespread [outbreak],” he says. Hong Kong temporarily closed its borders to non-residents, and as it uses techniques such as social distancing and virus mapping, residents are also using masks.
Masks have become “scarce and costly in our city, which has made it impossible for many families to obtain clean and effective safety gear,” Cheng says. “Even if you are lucky enough to get one for yourself and your loved ones, the overall quality of the masks that are currently available in the market is also a big concern for a lot of people here due to the unknown origin and materials.” His company has two mask production lines, which will come online in mid-April, making medical-grade masks that filter 98% of particles. The masks will also be distributed to other communities in need throughout the world.
The company partnered with eight local nonprofits, including the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong, the Salvation Army, and the Neighborhood Advice-Action Council, which will be distributing smart cards that low-income, at-risk residents can use to get the masks from the vending machines. Everyone will be able to pick up a set of five free masks a week for a 10-week period.
“By providing a consistent supply of medical face masks delivered through machine dispensers, we can ensure a hygienic, contact-free distribution process that carries fewer health risks than standard supply practices,” Cheng says. “At the same time, by leveraging QR code technology to identify and validate pre-registered families and communities who are especially vulnerable to the virus, the vending machines allow us to efficiently get the product into the hands of those most in need, without them having to wait in [lines], and thereby dramatically limit the risk of exposure to the virus.”