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Hong Kong streets empty of protestors after coronavirus? No, photo of Wuhan, China

Do two photos show the streets of Hong Kong before and after the outbreak of Covid-19, the new strain of coronavirus?

That’s the claim in a graphic posted on Facebook in South Africa on 9 February 2020.

The graphic’s first photo shows thousands of people in a demonstration, four of them waving the US flag, with the Hong Kong city skyline behind them. Text over the photo reads: “Hong Kong (December 2019)”.

The second photo is of a wide and empty road running between high-rise buildings. Here the text reads: “Hong Kong (Coronavirus Jan 2020)”.


Hong Kong demonstration in November 2019

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases. An outbreak of a new strain, technically known as 2019-nCoV and now named Covid-19, was identified in Wuhan, China in late December 2019.

Using a reverse image search, we traced the first photo to a December 2019 article in the New York Times, a US newspaper.

The caption reads: “Demonstrators in Hong Kong, above, on Thursday celebrated President Trump’s signing of legislation aimed at curbing human-rights abuses in the city.” The photo is credited to Lam Yik Fei for the New York Times.

It was snapped on Thursday 28 November 2019, the day after US president Donald Trump signed a law to impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials seen as responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong.

Empty streets in Wuhan after ban on vehicles

So the first photo is of Hong Kong, but from November 2019 – not December. But the second photo doesn’t show Hong Kong.

Another reverse image search revealed that it’s of Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province where the Covid-19 outbreak was first identified in December 2019.

Wuhan is almost 1,000 kilometres from Hong Kong. According to the World Health Organization, the city’s Hubei province had 58,182 confirmed cases of Covid-19 by 17 February 2020, and 1,696 deaths. Hong Kong, by contrast, had 57 cases and one death.

The photo is available as a stock image from Reuters, credited to China Daily.

Its caption reads: “A view of a street in Wuhan after the city's government announced a ban on non-essential vehicles in the downtown area to contain the coronavirus outbreak, in Wuhan, China, January 26.” – Mary Alexander



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