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China sends gift of masks to Hastings as part of tourism project

Nearly 10,000 surgical face masks arrived in Hastings during COVID-19 lockdown, gifted from cities, businesses and individuals in China wanting to show their appreciation for their close friendships with Hastings.

Many of those friendships had developed over decades, while others were forged as a result of the Amazing China Hastings year of Tourism 2019 project.

Hastings District councillor Kevin Watkins received the masks during lockdown levels 4, 3 and 2, and distributed them to volunteer organisations and individuals working face-to-face in the community.

Among the first recipients were Hastings Church, which focused on working with Hastings homeless during the lockdown, groups delivering food parcels to families across the district, and front-line businesses reopening under alert level two.

Kevin he still had a good supply which would be useful during the winter season, when colds and flu spread more readily. He urged charitable organisations requiring free masks to get in touch with him through Hastings District Council. "This has been a really kind surprise. We did not ask for the masks; this is entirely due to the relationships we have built up between Hastings and the regions and cities of China over time."

One example was the city Xiangyang, where residents frantically boxed and couriered several thousand face masks as soon as they became aware Hastings had its first confirmed COVID case.

"And with the masks came messages of love and concern that were so heart-warming and genuine.

"We received daily messages of support and prayers that we would overcome the virus."

Kevin says it would have been no easy task to get the masks to New Zealand. "It has taken a lot of effort over many weeks by our friends in China; navigating difficult customs restrictions in their home country at the height of the pandemic.

"We really appreciate their valiant efforts to help and have no doubt that through all the trials of the COVID-19 pandemic, our friendships have become so much stronger and personalised."

Hastings has a long history of friendship with the cities of China. It was the first district in New Zealand to sign a Sister City agreement with a city in China – in 1977 with Guilin. Many more relationships had been forged since 2006, when the first of a series of competitions was held to introduce Hastings secondary school students to China’s culture, history and geography, building awareness, understanding and relationships.

The most recent was last year’s Amazing China-Hastings Year of Tourism 2019 (aligned with the New Zealand-China Year of Tourism).

Hastings project saw more than 20 regions in China exchange gifts with Hastings, with those gifts the focus of a Hastings secondary school competition which had been planned for early this year.

"Unfortunately, we have had to delay the competition because of COVID-19 and it will not now resume this year. We will talk with our secondary schools as to how and when the project might proceed. When we all feel confident that the COVID issues are behind us we can look forward to an amazing competition," says Kevin.

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