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By: Phoebe LawEdited by: Jasmine Tse

Business

Guangdong businesses can apply for quarantine-free permits to enter Hong Kong

Employees of Guangdong companies can apply for quarantine-free business permits to visit Hong Kong starting today.  The online booking system has a daily quota of 1,000 for entry via the Shenzhen Bay Port or the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port.  This is on top of the existing scheme that allows non-Hong Kong residents from Guangdong province to enter the city without quarantine, which has been in effect since Sept. 15.  Macau was removed from exemption on Sept. 25 because of its latest Covid-19 outbreak. Business owners welcome the new travel scheme. “Because of Covid and the quarantine policies, we were unable to meet friends and families, and I could not meet my business partners in Hong Kong,” said Feng Minliang, who owns a fashion exhibition-organising company in Zhongshan in Guangdong. “I think the new policy is very useful,” said Feng. “Although it is only a temporary solution, it is definitely a good start to help the economy recover from Covid.” Meanwhile, foreign businesses have expressed frustration with the city’s “zero-Covid” strategy. The American Chamber of Commerce said their efforts in lobbying the Hong Kong government to reopen its borders with the rest of the world has been fruitless, as reported by Bloomberg. “We’re at the point where it just feels like we’re talking to a wall,” Tara Joseph, president of AmCham in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg. “The longer the closing of borders goes on, the more vulnerable many businesses are,” said Brian King, the Associate Dean and Professor of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “There will be job losses.” The number of headquarters and offices of mainland Chinese companies in Hong Kong increased by 22% to 1986 between 2019 and 2020, according to latest statistics from the Census and Statistics Department. Meanwhile, …

Society

Quarantine rooms for domestic helpers snapped up in minutes

The booking system for foreign domestic helpers at Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre on Lantau Island reopens today, following a halt since Sept. 19. The 1,000 rooms on offer were fully booked up in minutes.  Reservations for Oct. 22 to 28 provide 350 quotas for foreign domestic helpers to undergo quarantine. Phailin Leesirichaikul, a Thai missionary living in Hong Kong said that by the time she had gone through a series of steps to get to the booking page, all the quotas had already been taken. “Within three to five minutes after the system opened up, all of the rooms were fully booked, which made me anxious because the visa of my Indonesian helper is about to expire, but I cannot book a quarantine room for her,” she said. In order to arrange foreign domestic helpers to come to Hong Kong in a gradual and orderly manner and to guard against imported Covid-19 cases, Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre will continue to receive at most 50 helpers each day, according to a government press release.  The centre will provide an additional 200 units from Oct. 22, that’s a total of 1,000 units for inbound foreign domestic workers. Employers and employment agencies can make bookings from 9 a.m every Monday for the following week. According to government figures, as of Oct. 1, among the 6,060 Filipino foreign domestic helpers who arrived in Hong Kong between Aug. 30 and Sept. 24, there were 26 confirmed Covid cases. That’s a rate of 4.3%.  Law Chi-kwong, Secretary for Labour and Welfare, said in his blog post yesterday that such a rate should be taken seriously.  “On a daily basis, we will check the epidemic situation of foreign domestic helpers in their countries of origin, the diagnosis of workers upon arrival, and the operation and booking of …

Society

HKBU cancels World Press Photo exhibition prematurely

The World Press Photo exhibition, scheduled to open on Mar. 1, was cancelled prematurely by its host Hong Kong Baptist University. On Thursday, four days before the opening, HKBU released a statement saying that now was “not an appropriate time” to hold the exhibition due to “consideration to campus safety and security” and “the need to maintain pandemic control.” Senior Lecturer and Director of International Journalism concentration at HKBU, Robin Ewing, said, “The university management made the decision not to hold the exhibition for safety reasons. We are disappointed that our students and the people of Hong Kong will not be able to see the exhibition in person. It’s a real shame that the current political climate doesn’t allow for such a compelling global work of visual journalism to be shown. ” Ms Ewing is a faculty advisor to The Young Reporter. Organizers of the exhibition had planned to implement pandemic-control measures, including the mandation of mask-wearing, completion of a health declaration, temperature screening and limited entrants for social distancing. The Netherlands Consulate General in Hong Kong that funded the exhibition was “disappointed” about its cancellation.  “The exhibition bears testament to the important work photojournalists do all over the world in bringing us the stories that matter,” the Consulate General said on Facebook. “In these uncertain times, it reminds us that a free and independent press is vital for maintaining stable and resilient societies.” Users on Twitter speculated the cancellation was due to exhibition photos of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests in 2019. Dot Dot News, a pro-Beijing online propaganda site based in Hong Kong, published an article on Feb. 22, saying that the exhibition would “display photos taken during the period of ‘black violence’ a year ago that aimed to beautify rioters and provoke anti-police sentiment.”  The article specifically …

Health & Environment

Budget Address 2021: Both private and public healthcare sectors call for more support

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced more funding support for the Hospital Authority in his budget address today, raising dissatisfaction among the private and public healthcare sectors. Mr Chan’s policies included providing more than $5 billion to the Hospital Authority to support the anti-pandemic work, increase manpower and services in the public healthcare system, promote the development of Chinese medicine and enhance mental-health services. “Under the current epidemic, the HA will utilise the resources to further enhance public hospitals’ capability in managing infectious diseases,” HA chairman Henry Fan Hung-ling said at the Legislative Council today. However, government support for the private sector was nonexistent. “The private sector and its doctors are suffering under the pandemic,” said Philip Lai, a pharmacy owner in Kowloon City.  The majority of Mr Lai’s clients are local residents, and his pharmacy suffered a 30% drop in revenue since the pandemic began last year. “I deal with clients who want better drugs and medicines that are not available in public hospitals,” Mr Lai said. “But if the public sector gets more funding, they can offer higher quality medicine. Then why would anyone buy medicine from pharmacies?” Private clinics also suffered a drop in patients due to the pandemic. Tracy Hui, a nurse, said her private clinic had a 40% drop in patients. “I didn’t expect the government to support us. But if they could provide any support, it would be best if they could help us in terms of rent,” said Ms Hui. The public sector also showed dissatisfaction with this year’s budget address. “The policies were not about health, they were about security and IT.” said Dr Arisina Ma, president of Hong Kong Public Doctors association.  Dr Ma pointed out that the budget address only covered paint-by-number policies, including increased isolation beds and mental health …

Health & Environment

Covid vaccine advisory panel to consider Sinovac data before peer review

A health expert on the government’s COVID-19 advisory panel denied on Monday that the mainland’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine is being exempted from peer review. Professor David Hui Shu-cheong stressed that the vaccine will not be approved for public use before the data is published in a medical journal.  “We are just trying to have an earlier meeting based on information that they provided to the World Health Organization or to the China National Medical Products Administration so that we can actually have some data to work on,” said Professor Hui, a respiratory medicine expert from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The government announced last Friday that it would consider whether Sinovac should be approved for use in Hong Kong based on Phase 3 clinical data the company submitted to the World Health Organization. Sinovac said earlier that it was having difficulties compiling the relevant information for publication in a short period of time, according to a government press release. Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee denied yesterday that the government was  lowering its standards with the exemption. He explained that the publication process typically takes two to three months, including a lengthy peer review process where the manufacturer has to answer all questions presented by its external referees.  “Eventually they will be able to publish,” Professor Hui said. “But we don’t want to wait for two to three months doing nothing.” The government ordered 7.5 million doses of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine in December 2020. Delivery was expected in January, but was delayed because the advisory panel was awaiting for more clinical information. Sinovac has provided the Department of Health with its Phases 1 and 2 clinical data, based on studies in Brazil and Turkey. The Phase 3 clinical data has been submitted to the World Health …