By: Shameel IbrahimEdited by: LI Chak Ho Samuel

Society

“ Blue Fridge” project helps a community in times of need

Hong Kong’s unemployment rate in December 2020 stood at 7%, according to government figures. It was the highest in 17 years. The Hong Kong Council of Social Service, a group co-ordinating NGOs in the city, estimated that more than 359,900 families, or 17.1% of economically active households, were affected by unemployment or underemployment in the last quarter of 2020. More than 1.1 million people had at least an unemployed or underemployed member in the family, HKCSS added. As a result, 24,200 children in 92,500 unemployed poor families were living below the poverty line, HKCSS estimated. Mr. Khan watched “I’m Livin It,” a Hong Kong movie which featured the struggles of the city’s homeless people and “McRefugees” that is homeless people who spend the night at 24-hour McDonald’s restaurants. “I was thinking everybody put their grocery [in] the fridge. When you go home, [if you] want something to eat, you would open the fridge. People just want to open the fridge and take whatever they want,” Mr. Khan said. Mr Khan said he painted the fridge blue because “everyone wants to see a blue sky.” When he started the project, Mr Khan said, he had to shop at the supermarket to fill the fridge. But after his daughter posted about the project on Facebook and made it go viral, local media rushed to his place to find out more. “Between 9 am and 6 pm, within half an hour, all the food was gone,” said Mr. Khan. “There [were] actually incidents [where], a homeless guy [was] standing in front of the fridge and he looked at it for another ten seconds and suddenly, he said, ‘I haven’t opened any fridge for years’,” Mr. Khan added. Aziz Khan (not related to Ahmed Khan), 30, knew Ahmed Khan as a family friend and …

Society

Muslims in Hong Kong prepare for a second Ramadan under COVID

Muslims in the city welcomed the month of Ramadan after the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong, the official representative body for Muslims, announced the confirmation of the start of the holy month yesterday. The announcement came after the government allowed the resumption of religious gatherings with a maximum 30 percent of the venue’s capacity. “There’s this sense of relief in Hong Kong that the mosques are open” said Adeel Malik, chairman of the Muslim Council of Hong Kong. “Overall, It’s sweet to have Ramadan again,” Mr. Malik said More than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide fast from dawn to dusk for the month of Ramadan, though some, such as the sick, are exempted. Not having the iftar — the group meal during the breaking of the fast -- was the only downside this year, said Mr Malik. The iftar meal is usually eaten after sunset together with a large group of people, including family and friends. Social gatherings beyond four people are not allowed under the current government regulations — making iftars in the city confined to homes. "The purpose of Ramadan is to attain righteousness and that’s the main purpose of fasting," said Mr. Malik, adding that he expected to have Ramadan “fully back to function” in following years. Rahman Anse, a final year student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the month helps her to improve her spiritual goals. Ms. Anse also added that people should protect themselves as well as the community during the pandemic. “All of these activities can be done in smaller groups or even at home,” said. Ms. Anse. “I have more time to spend at home because all of my classes are online now.”. The city has 300,000 Muslims from multiple backgrounds, making up 4.6% …

Society

Life Under the Pandemic: How Do the Domestic Helpers Spend Their Holidays

Every Sunday, in areas such as Mong Kok and Central, footbridges and parks are packed with clusters of foreign domestic helpers. Under covid regulations, large groups  are broken up. A domestic helper, Bege, said this was her first time to gather with friends at the Mong Kok footbridge. They used to spend their  day-offs in her neighbourhoods. Another domestic helper, Vina, said, apart from resting at the footbridge, she would go shopping with her friends. But under the pandemic, she had nothing to do after spending time with her friends, so she would get home earlier. Unlike Bege and Vina, another domestic helper, Magttelena enjoyed “me-time” on the footbridge by doing live streaming on Facebook. For domestic helpers in Hong Kong, finding a place to spend their days off is tough during COVID. The parks in which they used to gather are now off limits. "Under the gathering ban, domestic helpers are facing more discrimination from locals when spending time together," said Peggy Shek, committee member from the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions, which has over 750 foreign domestic helper members. According to the FADWU’s figures in June 2020, among the 427 domestic helpers who were interviewed, over 80% of them felt they faced more discrimination amid the pandemic. "Before the pandemic, the domestic helpers would sometimes be driven out by security guards  or dissuaded from taking photos when resting in parks," said Ms Shek But since last year, the domestic helpers interviewed felt that they had become the focus. Ms Shek added that reporters come to them more often and more people give them the dirty look. "Once when the domestic helpers were resting in the park, there were announcements reminding them to follow the social distancing rules every hour, which they found disturbing," said Ms …

Society

Nearly 3 million Hong Kong Facebook accounts may be affected by data leak

Personal information from more than 533 million Facebook users from 106 countries have been leaked and posted in a low-level hacking forum on Saturday, cybersecurity researcher, Alon Gai said on Twitter on Saturday. Around 2.94 million Hong Kong users may be affected. The exposed data includes users’ full names, phone numbers, locations, email addresses and biographical information. Security researchers say hackers could use the data to commit fraud.  A Facebook spokesperson said that the data had been scrapped due to a vulnerability that the company patched in 2019.  According to Alon Gal, the chief technology officer of a cybercrime intelligence firm Hudson Rock, who discovered the leakage of data on Saturday, said while the data is a couple of years old, it could be used by cybercriminals  to impersonate users or scam them into handing over login credentials.  Ms Chung Lai-ling Ada, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data inHong Kong, said that her office is paying close attention to the Facebook leak and has carried out compliance investigations.  She suggested that members of the public should think twice before using social media. "The use of social media carries inherent yet non-negligible risks to users' privacy in relation to personal data," said Ms Chung.  The PCPD also issued a “Guidance on Protecting Personal Data Privacy in the Use of Social Media and Instant Messaging Apps” on April 5, which provides the public with some practical advice to mitigate the privacy risks involved in the use of social media. The Guidance points out that the use of social media and instant messaging apps is not really "free" because users’ personal data is usually monetized upon registration or in the course of user activities.  Users of social media often unwittingly reveal more information than they think. Information shared online can also be misused …

Health & Environment

H&M responds to China boycott while slashed by state media

Swedish retailer H&M said it hoped to regain the trust of Chinese customers in a statement issued on Wednesday, after facing a boycott over the company’s refusal to use Xinjiang cotton for alleged human rights abuses. The embattled fast fashion company said they are working with colleagues in China to “do everything they can to manage the current challenges and find a way forward”.  “China will clearly continue to play an important role in further developing the entire industry,” the statement said. While the statement did not directly mention Xinjiang cotton or the boycott, it said that the company wants to “be a responsible buyer, in China and elsewhere, and are now building forward-looking strategies and actively working on next steps with regards to material sourcing.” The response comes as the Chinese backlash continues towards several Western brands including H&M, Nike and Burberry, which have expressed concerns about alleged forced labor in producing Xinjiang cotton and the decision by some to stop using cotton from the region. In a response to H&M’s statement, Chinese state media CCTV said on the Twitter-like social media platform Weibo that the statement was a “second-rate public relations essay”, deliberately avoiding the important issue and was lacking sincerity. It also said if the company wants to maintain its market position in China, it should show the stance. The world’s largest fashion retailer after Spanish clothing company Inditex, which owns Zara, has shut 20 stores in China, said the group’s Helena Helmersson during a conference to shareholders. The closure accounts for about 4% of the total 502 stores in China. Chinese e-commerce platforms including Taobao and JD.com also pulled the brand last week and people could not locate the stores from online maps. Chinese celebrities rushed to cut ties with the brand after the company’s statement issued …

Society

Wellness hub provides sanctuary for Hong Kong Baptist University students under stress

Covid-19 and long hours of online learning may be adding to the stress of university students. But a short break in a "wellness hub" maybe just the way to decompress.

Society

World Press Photo Exhibition 2020 returns to Hong Kong

The World Press Photo Exhibition opened today for two weeks after being cancelled in February by Hong Kong Baptist University over campus safety and security concerns.  The independent, Amsterdam-based organisation holds the awards, which is recognised as one of the most prestigious photojournalism contests in the world. The World Press Photo 2020 received more than 70,000 entries from 4,000 journalists. The Hong Kong exhibition is sponsored by the Netherlands Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau. More than 150 photos are exhibited as this year’s winners across eight categories: Contemporary Issues, Environment, General News, Long-term Projects, Nature, Portraits, Sports and Spot News. Photo of the year "Straight Voice", won by AFP photographer Yasuyoshi Chiba, was on a protester reciting poetry amid a military coup and blackout in Sudan. A major theme of the Word Press Photo 2020 were protests held in places all over the world including Algeria, Sudan, Hong Kong and Chile. Other themes were climate change, transgender rights and territorial conflict.  Story of the year titled "Kho, the Genesis of a Revolt", was a series of 30 photographs on the youth-led protests in Algeria by photographer Romain Laurendeau. A series of photographs on the protests in Hong Kong titled “Hong Kong Unrest” by AFP photographer Nicolas Asfouri, was nominated for World Press Photo Story of the Year. The Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to more than half of the World Press Photo exhibitions worldwide and delayed Hong Kong’s exhibition, which was initially set to be held in the fall last year.  The exhibition was cancelled again in February by Hong Kong Baptist University after online criticism of the Hong Kong photos sparked safety and security concerns.  The exhibition is open to the public at theDesk in the United Centre, Admiralty. Online registration is required beforehand to enforce social …

Society

DSE results to be released via SMS, strict Covid measures in place as exams begin next month

Candidates sitting this year's Diploma of Secondary Education examinations will receive their results through SMS messages in addition to official print transcripts, the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority announced on Thursday.  The text will show the partial name and ID number of the student, subjects and grades. It allows candidates - who might not be able to go to school in-person due to Covid-related reasons - to change their university choices promptly, said Ricardo Mak, Director of Public Examinations at the HKEAA.  The HKEAA will send students a test SMS in June, one month before the DSE results are released.  The exams will take place from April 23 to May 20.  Students waiting for compulsory Covid tests or in lockdown are not allowed to take the exams, and they should inform the Public Examinations Information Centre, the HKEAA said. But there will be no make-up if the students miss their exams, added the HKEAA. The application for absence from exams requires affirmation from the school principal. The HKEAA will then give a grade based on the student's academic performance; the maximum score is 5, the third-highest level after 5** and 5*. "Regarding unusual cases like this, we will assess and tackle fairly and impartially," said Mr Mak. Head of School Examinations and Assessment Margaret Hui said, students who are late for exams because of delayed Covid test results should try to head to the centres and report to the supervisors. But no extra hours will be granted. "Even though they might have less time for paper 1, they might make it to do paper 2. We will use the performance of paper 2 to assess how we can compensate for the loss in paper 1," Ms Hui said. Candidates must fill in the health-declaration form and have their temperature …

Health & Environment

Chief Executive Carrie Lam: “Large-scale vaccination programme is key to normalcy”

  Chief Executive Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor said that a large-scale vaccination programme is needed so citizens can go back to their normal lives at the Executive Council meeting. About 379,600 people are vaccinated in Hong Kong. 243,000 people have received the Sinovac vaccine and 135,800 people have received the BioNTech vaccine. “Hong Kong is very fortunate in terms of vaccination programme. We are doing great in vaccine supply, the community centre for vaccination and the release of vaccine information.” Mrs Lam said. She encouraged people in priority groups to receive the vaccine as soon as possible in order to protect themselves. Mrs Lam also added that she would look into whether the 21-day quarantine restrictions for overseas travellers could be eased. “I am certainly, fully and acutely aware of the pressure that has been put on a lot of people. To be isolated for 21 days is a huge load in terms of physical, psychological and other aspects." Lam said. Lam added she felt fine after receiving the second dose of the Sinovac vaccine on Mar 22. Seven people aged between 55 and 80 have died after receiving the Sinovac jab. However, the Expert Committee on Clinical Events Assessment said the deaths were unlinked to the vaccine.

Society

Hong Kong releases electric vehicle roadmap, to ban petrol cars from 2035

Hong Kong will ban fossil-fuel powered cars from 2035 with a target of zero carbon emissions by 2050, the government announced yesterday. Up to 5,000 public charging stations and 150,000 charging facilities in private buildings will be built by 2025, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said in a press conference. "There are many challenges, I have to admit. But the intention is clear, we want the city to become carbon neutral, to provide clean air and to make Hong Kong a smart city."Mr Wong said. Electric vehicles in Hong Kong have increased from 180 in 2010 to more than 18,500 at the end of 2020 with around 1,200 public charging stations, including 106 fast chargers, according to the Hong Kong Electric report on installation of electric chargers. Chan Kwok-chung, 45, who has been driving a petrol car for more than 20, said the government's plan to popularise electric vehicles won’t work. “We have insufficient parking spaces right now. Where can we still get room for additional charging parking spaces for electric vehicles?” Mr Chan said. “Especially when an electric vehicle takes a very long time to charge, it will worsen the insufficient parking situation.” Popularising electric vehicles depends on the Hong Kong economy, car dealerships and the number of chargers, Fung Ho-yin, Deputy Director of the Environmental Protection department, said in a RTHK interview. “Most public charging services are medium-speed, and the waiting time is at least four to eight hours, which is not the main charging spot that car owners can rely on,” Mr Fung said to RTHK. In October last year, the government launched a $2 billion subsidy scheme to upgrade electric charging stations in private residential buildings. “We received more than 200 application forms from housing estates, with more than 60,000 parking spaces,” he said. In …