The pandemic isn't slowing down protests in NYC, Lebanon, and Hong Kong — here's how people are balancing protests with coronavirus safety

  • Experts worry about the toll the coronavirus could take on protesters demonstrating in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
  • The same is true in Lebanon and Hong Kong, where anti-government protests have been raging for much longer.
  • We checked in with protesters in three cities to see how they’re balancing daily protests and their own health during a pandemic.
  • View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.

As American cities enter their fourth week of protests over the police killing of George Floyd, experts fear the toll the coronavirus could take on demonstrators.

The same fears are held around the world in places where protests have been raging for much longer – in Lebanon, where people are demanding basic rights and an end to corruption, and in Hong Kong, where they are standing up for democracy and freedom of speech.

As the protests gain momentum, medical experts warn that they could lead to an explosion of secondary infections.

We followed protesters in New York City, Hong Kong, and Beirut, Lebanon, to see what’s fuelling them and how they balance fighting for their rights while staying safe during a pandemic.

Since late May, tens of thousands of Americans have been protesting police brutality and racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

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One protester in New York City, Kay, is doing her part by distributing free snacks, water and masks for others.

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Before the protests kicked off, the streets of New York had been virtually empty since March because of the coronavirus. New York was an epicentre for the virus in the early stages of the pandemic.

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“No one was outside. Everyone was home,” Kay said. “We were all just waiting to see when the city would reopen, and we were all restless waiting to see how everything was going to play out, what life was going to look like after the pandemic. Now we have this. 2020 just keeps topping us.”

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The protests have stood in stark contrast to the quarantine guidelines of the last few months, with sometimes tens of thousands of people gathering in tight quarters. “This intersection of COVID in protest is actually my worst nightmare,” Lauren Powell, executive director of Time’s Up Healthcare, said.

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Much of the crowds showing up to protest in New York can be seen wearing face masks.

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But for many protesters, fighting for the cause outweighed the health risks.

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“On one hand, COVID-19 is a great threat, an imminent threat to my life and to the life of many others in my community,” Powell said. “But so is racism. And racism has been a threat to my life and to the lives of those in my community and my ancestors for 401 years, to be precise.”

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In Lebanon, protests have been raging since October, when 1 million people took to the streets to protest against an government inefficiency and to demand access to food, healthcare, and education.

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“I think the main demand here this time is a change of the system,” Hussein El Achi, cofounder of the political movement Minteshreen, said. “I think a lot of us are demanding radical changes. But if you dig in deep, you’ll see that maybe everyone are demanding basic rights. What we’re demanding is not an instantaneous radical change.”

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The Lebanese economy has been declining since August of last year. More than a third of the country’s 6 million people are unemployed, and almost half live below the poverty line.

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Source: BBC

After the coronavirus hit Lebanon, groups of protesters began stepping up and distributing food and health supplies like face masks they said the government was not supplying.

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“The democratic process is the way,” El Achi said. “But we should also be very careful that when people go hungry, when people are not feeding their children, people will not be rational anymore.”

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In Hong Kong, masks don’t only protect protesters from coronavirus. They protect them from tear gas and shield their identities.


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Protesters have been wearing them since they first hit the streets in March 2019 to object to a proposal that would allow extradition to mainland China. Critics feared such a policy could undermine Hong Kong’s judicial independence and endanger dissidents.


Hong Kong was largely quiet during an island-wide coronavirus lockdown, but the passing of a new national security law fuelled another round of protests in May. For many protesters, the fear of China tightening its grip over Hong Kong is far greater than the fear of COVID-19.


And for others, it’s worth protesting because they fear that right may be taken away. “The further down the road we are, it’s not only about the pandemic having an impact, but also people’s mentality,” one protester said. “They are so scared of coming out.”

Alda Tsang / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

“There’s the roaring flames in the beginning, the pandemic put out the fire, and many people lost the fire inside. Eventually it diminished their will to come out.”

Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

But the fire is roaring for hundreds of thousands around the world, with no end in sight. And the effect of global protests on the spread of coronavirus is yet to be seen.

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