Coronavirus has caused paranoia in Hong Kong, says triathlete Oscar Coggins

It is a huge challenge for athletes to train in Hong Kong because of the deadly coronavirus which has resulted in mass shutdown of the public spaces.

Hong Kong's Oscar Coggins poses with his trophy after winning the silver medal at the 2020 Triathlon Asian Cup.   -  r. ragu

The people’s protest and the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted normal life in Hong Kong. But triathlete Oscar Coggins says he’s not been “too affected” due to his schedule.

He'd been training in Phuket (Thailand) when the first cases of the virus were reported in Hong Kong. "I had planned to go there to prepare for this event," he says after winning the men's silver in the Triathlon Asian Cup here on Sunday.

"But I extended the trip because it makes sense to stay away from Hong Kong for a while. It was kind of good timing in a way. I was quite lucky," he adds.

So, is travel as a Hong Kong athlete too inconvenient in the time of coronavirus?

"A lot of places don’t let you in with a Hong Kong passport. I would say I have an advantage since I look very western. My parents are both from England. But when I do anything to do with travel, or anything official, then that's when the questions come.

"So, when you show the Hong Kong passport, they ask,  'Where you’ve been,' 'Have you visited China?' and all that. The way I look definitely helps, though. I would say some of the treatment of people who look Chinese has been quite unjustified."

The 20-year-old says "there's a huge amount of paranoia" in Hong Kong especially since it was "heavily hit by SARS less than two decades ago". He recalls he was a three-year-old when his family stayed out of Hong Kong for six months then.

He says the shutting down of training facilities has now been a "serious problem" for a lot of Hong Kong-based athletes. "It’s still very busy, but everything is closed. Everything government-run, like the schools, parks, public swimming pools and running tracks, are all closed. The  Sports Institute (HKSI) is still open, but there are a lot of precautions now.

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"So, every athlete who’s training there has to undergo a daily temperature check. If you come back from China, you have to undergo a two-week quarantine. It’s extremely challenging. If I was training in Hong Kong, it would be extremely disruptive for me. For instance, I used to train in a public swimming pool. Overall, it’s not great, but there are ways around it."

He said the least of all precautions that any athlete in the virus-affected regions would take is to avoid crowded places. "And that’s very difficult to do in Hong Kong because it’s so dense."

He adds: "I've been very careful with my travelling especially because I’m trying to qualify for the Olympics. Getting sick normally can be a big problem. And (getting infected) with coronavirus, it’s like zero chance for the Olympics. Like, possibly, months in the hospital, and although the death rate is not as high for healthy people, it’s still a big risk to take."

He reckons the civil unrest has died down a bit. "It's a bit of a depressing situation. I know it’s the right decision to avoid Hong Kong right now. But it’s not an easy decision."

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