Renowned art collector Adrian Cheng has announced plans to distribute millions of surgical face masks free of charge during the coronavirus pandemic, using 35 specially built vending machines placed in various locations around Hong Kong.
Cheng, the heir to a property and jewelry empire, said he will make the first batch of 10 million masks available to vulnerable people and low-income families, who can use a pre-loaded smart card in the vending machines.
Hong Kong, along with several other Asian nations, advised its citizens from early in the Covid-19 crisis to wear face masks when they need to go out in public. That advice has more recently been adopted by the United States and some European countries.
“It is heart-breaking to see so many people suffer because they simply cannot afford or get a hold of masks, which have become so costly and scarce,” Cheng said in a statement.
“Some disadvantaged groups have had to use the same mask repeatedly. I hope this initiative will provide convenient and appropriate support to those in need so that they are not living in fear due to mask shortages.”
Cheng is the CEO and executive vice chairman of property company New World Development and a well-known art collector credited with raising the profile of many Chinese artists.
Each “smart redemption card” used for the program will have a unique QR code for identification purposes, Cheng’s company said, which the holder can tap at one the “Mask To Go” dispensers to collect a pack of masks.
The machines will be placed in 18 districts around the city from the end of April.
Hong Kong has seen relatively fewer coronavirus cases than many countries, but numbers there have spiked in recent weeks as it began to relax measures aimed at stemming the spread of the pandemic.
It has currently recorded nearly 1,000 cases and four deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
This article has been updated to better reflect Adrian Cheng’s position at New World Development.