The feeling that set in, however, was neither relief at escaping the city that has possibly the most onerous social-distancing requirements anywhere nor exhilaration at liberation from the tyranny of the face mask. In my mind, as I transferred from the DLR to the Jubilee Line and then to the Bakerloo, which includes some of the busiest stations of London’s Tube, there was no question of removing my fresh N95 – I would keep it on tight until I got into my hotel room in Oxford that afternoon.
No, what set in was fear, even terror, coupled with a sense of foreboding. I knew full well that the UK was averaging about 37,000 new Covid-19 cases a day at that time. The day before, Hong Kong reported 10,010 cases, which I reckoned was twice the per-population infection figure of the UK. (Only a week later, on March 4, Hong Kong’s number would ramp up sharply, reaching a pandemic peak of 72,682 infections in a day.)
Going by the numbers and the risk, I should not have been worried. But I was nonetheless afraid that, after avoiding infection for two years, now that I was roaming in the wild in the post-pandemic world of the unmasked, many of whom seemed more than willing to practice social closeness, it would only be a matter of time before I caught Covid – or more to the point, Covid bagged me.
Having made my getaway from Hong Kong’s fifth wave, like everyone else living in this time of Covid, I had to weigh my desire to wander and my newly gained freedom to break out of pandemic routines with the ever-present danger of the disease. Now that I had made it to this land I had heard of that was no longer requiring arrivals to get tested and had no mandatory quarantine, as a fully vaccinated individual, I was willing to take risks. I went to the theater four times while in London, where masking requests at each venue were not enforced. In only one house did the masked outnumber the unmasked. I did the same in New York, where masks were required in theaters. At one performance, because I was participating in a post-curtain discussion and would be removing my face cover for the panel session, I had to have a rapid antigen test before I could enter the theater, watch the play and take the stage.