As the as 2019-nCoV coronavirus epidemic has deepened, spreading from Hubei to all 31 of China’s provinces, emissaries of the Chabad-Lubavitch hassidic movement have been handing out thousands of sanitary masks in an expression of solidarity and gratitude with the Chinese people who offered some 30,000 stateless Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism eight decades ago a haven in Shanghai’s Hongkou district, Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon, the Hong Kong-based chief emissary to China, told The Jerusalem Post via Skype on Monday.Sanitary masks have become almost impossible to find in China today, but as Avtzon was speaking to the Post, a shipment of several hundred masks and virus protection kits arrived from Magen David Adom in Israel, he said. “Just as they arrived, a woman from the community called us to ask if we could help her find them for her family,” Avtzon said, adding that now the challenge is how to deliver the prophylactic medical supplies to the Chabad centers across China, “where they need them desperately. We are in touch with a few companies to ship the masks, but there is a serious risk that they will just be stuck in storage, and in this case I would just keep them here in Hong Kong. Even hospitals are looking for them,” he noted.Living in the former British colony that became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic in 1997, the rabbi was the first Chabad emissary dispatched to China more than 30 years ago.Avtzon remembers the international outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, a related coronavirus strand that infected 5,327 people in mainland China, and caused 349 deaths. There were 8,098 confirmed cases of SARS worldwide from November 2002 to July 2003, with 774 deaths globally.SARS had a mortality rate of 9.6%, and was more deadly than the current 2019-nCoV coronavirus, which as of Monday has infected more than 17,459 people and killed at least 361, all but one in China.“People in 2003 got sick quickly and developed very severe symptoms pretty fast. The current pattern seems less worrisome but at the same time experts do not seem to understand how the virus is behaving,” he said.Avtzon added that social media has compounded the fear of the current crisis.“Now everyone can spread news and panic with their phones, and very often it is not even so easy to distinguish between real news and fake news,” he noted.Hong Kong is home to the largest Jewish community in China, estimated at more than 5,000 people. The city includes several synagogues, as well as a Jewish day school operated by Chabad.Like all educational institutes in China, the school closed for the Chinese New Year in the second half of January. It has yet to reopen.“Authorities first said that schools would be closed until February 17, then until March 2. Many families with children in the community, and I’m sure also outside of the community, are leaving not because they are scared, but because they don’t know how to keep children at home all day long,” he said.Unlike the epicenter in Wuhan, and several other cities in China, Hong Kong is not currently in lock down. People may circulate freely and the city’s Chek Lap Kok International Airport remains open.“However, the situation is not happy and many places are closed,” the rabbi explained, describing a very subdued atmosphere in the usually bustling streets.Chabad Hong Kong is organizing daily activities for the children on forced vacation, with groups meeting at the Chabad House and even going on small trips from time to time.“We obviously take very serious precautions. We take the children’s temperature regularly, have them wash their hands often, and wear masks when we take them out,” the rabbi said.However, many of the 17 emissary families stationed in several cities around China – including Chengdu, Ningbo and Yiwo, but not Beijing or Shanghai – have left the country, both because they were instructed to do so by the authorities and because their congregants had left.“My heart goes to my fellow shluchim who had to leave on a day’s notice... Chabad is truly the Jewish infrastructure in China, and we are confident that with the help of God the situation will soon stabilize and go back to normal. To help the communities to return operational as soon as possible, we have set a relief fund and we thank all of those who are donating to support it,” Avtzon said.He explained several thousand expat Jewish businesspeople, professionals and students live in China, some permanently and others for extended periods. None have been infected or shown symptoms of the respiratory virus so far, the rabbi said.“We ask the Jewish people all over the world to pray for us and to pray for China, which welcomed Jews in need during the Holocaust, never had a history of antisemitism and it is very hospitable and warm to the Jewish community to this day,” he concluded.