Some 1.49 million join a single queue for face masks - RTHK
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Some 1.49 million join a single queue for face masks

2020-02-14 HKT 14:28
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  • Watson's said at its peak, 1.49 million were in the queue, but they had only a registration quota of 30,000. Image: RTHK
    Watson's said at its peak, 1.49 million were in the queue, but they had only a registration quota of 30,000. Image: RTHK
  • Just a couple of minutes after the registration process began, there were already hundreds of thousands in the queue. Image: RTHK
    Just a couple of minutes after the registration process began, there were already hundreds of thousands in the queue. Image: RTHK
Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people joined a single queue for masks on Friday, trying their luck online rather than out in the miserable weather.

While queues snaking around various streets and through shopping malls are now a familiar sight as people scramble for masks during the coronavirus outbreak, this time it was the website of pharmacy chain Watson's drawing a massive crowd.

The rush started at midday, as people raced to register their details on the website to get the chance to buy a box of 50 masks. But anyone joining the queue just two minutes later would have found close to 700,000 people had beaten them to it.

A Ma On Shan resident surnamed Cheung said she logged onto the site at 12.02pm. But the system told her there were 674,878 people already in the queue in front of her.

Undeterred, she hung on and said she started to get her hopes up at around 12.33pm when a message popped up saying she would soon be taken to the registration page, where she would have to fill in her name, ID card number, email address and mobile number.

But the hope turned to disappointment at 12.45pm, Cheung told RTHK, when a new message said "Oops! The registration is closed".

At around the same time, Watson's announced on social media that despite the queue hitting 1.49 million at its peak, there was in fact only a registration quota of 30,000.

Those lucky enough to grab a spot were to be sent confirmation emails and text messages telling them how they could pay and collect their masks from one of the chain's branches.

A university worker surnamed Ip was among the hundreds of thousands who lost out.

"I knew I couldn't buy any when I saw around 200,000 people in front of me in the queue. Still though, online purchases are better than going out to queue on the streets," she said.

A Tai Wai resident surnamed Ng wasn't happy to hear about the 30,000 customer limit, saying he thought everyone would be able to register and then wait for their time to be assigned a box. "It's just a race against time," he said.