Health & Environment

Health & Environment

Calls for improvement in online learning

Ignoring the piles of unfinished assignments on his desk, Michael Shum, a form two secondary school student, sits in front of his computer to play video games all day. Since the government announced the suspension of  classes, spending hours in front of the computer has become his new normal. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, schools in many countries, including Italy, India and the United Kingdom, have closed down in order to slow down the pandemic transmission. Ahead of the other countries, two months before it turned into a pandemic, schools in Hong Kong already stopped  face-to-face classes and shut down the schools indefinitely. Most teachers have since transferred to remote teaching. Students can turn their homes into classrooms with one click on their computers and get on to their schools' e-platform. Zoom is a popular web-based video conferencing tool for many universities worldwide, whereas eClass is often used in secondary schools to provide digital learning resources. Since the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong in 2003, the government here has been using the slogan "Suspending classes without suspending learning". The aim is to encourage schools to adopt eLearning in classrooms and offer digital content for students' self-learning outside the classroom. Apart from enabling eLearning during emergencies, the government also wants to build up an interactive way for students to participate in class actively. "E-Learning is a leading trend today and beyond, therefore the Hong Kong government has been promoting  eLearning for almost 10 years," says Dr. Li Ka Kui, the chairman of the Hong Kong Publishing Federation.   But Michael Shum has his reservations on eLearning. He thinks the only benefit of eLearning is that he can stay at home all day, without rushing to school. "I simply don't like eLearning especially when we are forced to suspend all our classes,"Michael says with …

Health & Environment

Hong Kong's underprivileged face unequal access to healthcare

Fong Cheng-Mui, 75, relies on the government's old age subsidy of approximately $3,000 per month. She prefers to treat herself at home rather than go to a public clinic when she falls ill.  "I once went to Queen Elizabeth Hospital with severe abdominal pain and waited for over five hours, but never got treated. I went home and took care of myself," said Ms Fong. Ms Cheng is one of thousands of people in Hong Kong, who have not been getting adequate healthcare. A study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong in late 2018 found that 8.4% of respondents did not seek medical care due to financial problems. Others avoid public clinics because of overcrowding, according to a local non-governmental human-rights advocacy group.  While many in Hong Kong can afford private healthcare with minimal fuss, the city's lower and middle income residents face long queues and hours of waiting at public hospitals. Consultation for primary outpatient care costs $50 per visit with speciality services at $135 for the first visit and $80 for a follow-up, according to the Hospital Authority's website.  "When I found out that I had a lump in my stomach, I rushed to a private hospital because I could not wait at a public hospital because I was afraid that it might be cancer. But the charge was so high that I had no choice but to come back to a public hospital," said Fung Ho-Chu, 71. Last year, for non-urgent cases, waiting times to see a doctor at a public hospital ranged from a minimum of six months to nearly three years, according to the Hospital Authority's website. For semi-urgent cases, it could take up four to seven weeks.  Last year, Ms Fung had to wait five months to see a specialist in a public …

Health & Environment

Fight or flight: How do Students Abroad Cope with the Global Pandemic

As schools around the world shut to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, university foreign exchange students struggle over the decision to return home or stay put.  In Europe, non-essential incoming travel was banned on March 17, stirring worries among the student community as air ticket prices shot up.  Rachel Khun, a German exchange student in the Netherlands, decided to go home, despite Germany having one of the highest numbers of confirmed cases in Europe.  "I left the country when face-to-face classes at the university were suspended. Staying at home reassures me," said the 21-year-old, adding that her home in the German countryside has fresh air and open space and she can follow the news in her mother language. "I will not return to the Netherlands unless classes or exams are resumed on campus," said Ms Khun, who was sharing a home with three other students there.  Also studying in the Netherlands, Chiara Pierucci, 21, from Italy, decided to stay as the number of confirmed cases there are fewer than in her hometown.  "My parents asked me repeatedly to go back home before all flight connections would be interrupted, but I thought that staying in the Netherlands was safer," said Ms Pierucci, who lives alone in a studio apartment with a private toilet.  Italy is the most hard hit country other than China, with case numbers reaching 64,000 and a death toll over 6,000 as of March 24. Meanwhile in the Netherlands, the number of confirmed cases is just under 4,000.  Ms Pierucci said her main concern is the spread of the virus. "The possible development of the virus is scarier than catching the actual virus," she said, though she also worries about the Dutch private healthcare system, which requires insurance. Alitalia, Italy's main carrier, requires passengers to wear …

Health & Environment

Chinese health care system facing extreme shortage of medical supplies during coronavirus outbreak

In a Wuhan gymnasium that has been transformed into a makeshift cabin hospital, nurse Ms. Shen, who does not want to give her full name, said her team of 10 nurses treats more than 100 coronavirus patients every day. Patients scramble for free supplies, sometimes tearing off health workers masks, she said. "It's impossible to manage the distribution by myself," said Ms. Shen. "The only thing I can do is stand by."  She said she often cries, and at the end of the day, her protective suit is soaked with sweat. For the last day of the Chinese New Year, she did not return to her dormitory until 11pm. "It was almost 12 after I disinfected my clothes and I hadn't had my dinner," said Ms. Shen. "It feels bad being away from my family and seeing others celebrating the Lantern Festival on social media." Ms. Shen is one of thousands of overworked health workers in the heart of China's coronavirus outbreak that has seen more than 68,000 infected and 1,665 dead as of mid-February. Medical workers from 16 provinces, including Ms Shen's group from Kunming,  have travelled to Hubei to help sick patients. But as a shortage of supplies as well as staff continues, hospitals are forced to appeal to the public for help. In Xiaogan, 60 kilometers away from Wuhan, Cinderella Yang said her aunt, who works as a nurse at Yingcheng People's Hospital, had no break during the Chinese New Year. "We didn't learn the lessons from SARS 17 years ago," said Ms. Yang. "Emergency measures aren't efficient at all." Zed Guo, whose father is a doctor in Zhongshan, where 65 cases have been diagnosed, is not allowed to leave the city. His father told him that hospitals are in short supply, especially masks and antiviral drugs. …

Health & Environment

Free period products in the UK. How about Hong Kong?

LONDON - A woman's period happens every 28 days, each time lasting about five days. According to the National Health Service in the UK, most girls would have their first period at around age 12 and most women reach menopause at 51. Throughout her life, a woman has her period for around 2535 days, that is, roughly seven years. Starting from 20 January, free sanitary products will be made available to all schools and colleges in England to combat period poverty.  The Department of Education in England launched an £11.4 million ($114 million) scheme to support campaigns to break the stigma around periods and raise awareness of menstruation. It enables more than 20,000 schools and colleges to order a range of period products for their pupils. Period poverty, the social issue concerning limited access to safe sanitary products and comprehensive menstrual hygiene education, affects more than 800 million girls and women around the world, according to a United Nations study. "It is a step in the right direction," said Priscilla Oshuremi, founder of ConveHERsation, a women empowerment platform, "if that means one girl can come to school (to) participate instead of having to make an excuse, that's great." Plan International, a development and humanitarian organisation, released its research in 2017, saying that one in ten girls across the UK has been unable to afford sanitary wear and that 49% of girls have missed an entire day of school because of their period. Unlike the UK, where the tax on tampons was once as high as 17%, Hong Kong as a free port has no customs tariffs on imported menstruation products. Therefore, sanitary towels and tampons tend to be affordable and accessible to most. A box of 12 sanitary pads costs around $23 (£2.3) in London, while in Hong Kong it …

Health & Environment

Quest for masks in Europe: not a common practice

Wearing masks is essential these days as Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) has been raging for months. While searching for masks is a common practice in Hong Kong, the same behavior may be considered bizarre in Europe.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO) as of 13 February, the number of confirmed cases of the disease outside of China is 447, with 46 recorded cases in the European Region.  As the price of masks in Hong Kong went up due to high demands and the supply is insufficient, some continued the quest for masks abroad. The Netherlands, which has not recorded any confirmed cases, has been a target for some.  Jason Yu, a Hong Kong man who is currently traveling in Europe, said he did not expect masks and disinfection supplies are that expensive and hard to find. "I found masks in Germany that cost 50 euros per box (50 pieces of masks). I have bought some alcohol hand sanitizers in Switzerland. But I am surprised that no masks are sold in the Netherlands," said the 24-year-old traveler.  Chu Ho-yan, a student who is currently on exchange at Tilburg, Netherlands, also failed to find masks in the city.  "My family in Hong Kong is running out of masks for daily use and the supply is scarce. They thought I could buy some here and have them delivered to Hong Kong," said the 20-year-old girl.  She finally found two boxes of masks in Brussels, Belgium, which is an hour's journey away from the Netherlands. Even though she found masks, she said she would not wear them on the streets, so to avoid misunderstandings.  "While it is common to wear masks to prevent getting infected in Hong Kong, I observed that Europeans do not do that. I understand that it is a cultural difference," she …

Health & Environment

WeChat "group buying" helps mainland community survive COVID-19 quarantine

Stores are closed along the street with packages piled in front of the doors. Residents wait in line to fetch their deliveries at the entrance of Fenglin Oasis Compound in the south-west of Xi'an, Shaanxi province, mainland China.  Fenglin residents normally shop at a supermarket a block away from their homes. But since the coronavirus outbreak, they cannot leave the compound without a gate pass. The government requires residential communities to limit citizens' daily movements to control the spread of the disease. So WeChat groups have become the go-to grocery store. "I buy things from the WeChat groups every day," said Wang Hui, 49, a resident from the community. She didn't use the service very often before the outbreak because the choices are limited. However, food prices in the grocery stores inside the community have gone up since the epidemic.  "A bunch of dry noodles used to be 10 yuan, but it cost 16 yuan on New Year's Eve", she said. According to one organizer of a WeChat group that sells fruit, suppliers deliver fresh produce from wholesale markets or farms to the compound every day. Customers pay by scanning the QR codes on the packages with their order numbers when the goods are delivered. Some people transfer their payments to the retailers using "WeChat red pockets" ahead of the delivery.  Zhang Wenai, 21, is a volunteer at the Fenglin Oasis Community. She helps to record personnel information at the entry. "There is an open package collecting point at the entrance of the compound," she said. "Every day retailers send the goods according to the time agreed with the consumers. They drop the goods and leave." The person-to-person contact is restrained in this way.  One shopping group generates more than one hundred messages one day. However, not all are about …

Health & Environment

Closed-off management in Shenzhen communities during COVID-19 : People long for work resumption

Residential communities in Shenzhen are implementing closed-off management, some entrepreneurs at Peak Boulevard Estate long for work resumption due to concerns of financial losses of enterprises. "294 people's temperatures were tested, 0 shows abnormal..." After reading the daily community disease-prevention briefing, Tian Bao, the owner of a winery, as well as the resident of Peak Boulevard Estate, started his another closed-off day with the latest news of coronavirus pneumonia on social platforms. The COVID-19 coronavirus was found in Wuhan in December 2019. It first broke out as an "unknown pneumonia" at the Huanan seafood market and quickly spread throughout China during the next 2 months. Many countries in Southeast Asia, Europe, North America and even Africa were also affected. Up to now, according to the official daily announcement of the National Health Commission of China, there are around 57,900 existing cases, over 2000 deaths were reported. Shenzhen has cumulatively confirmed more than 400 cases, ranking at the top in Guangdong province. "Few people are going out now because everyone is afraid of the virus," said Zhang Li, a resident of Peak Boulevard Estate, "I only went out for some necessities which I couldn't buy from online stores. My family hasn't been out since the end of January."   Shenzhen Headquarters for Prevention and Control of Pneumonia Epidemic Caused by Novel Coronavirus officially announced the implementation of closed-off management in all the residential communities in Shenzhen on February 7. The property service department of Peak Boulevard Estate took actions on February 5th - unnecessary visitors are restricted from entering the community, residents have to declare their information through a Wechat program named "i Shenzhen" and use a specific system authentication code for entrance.  "We receive a daily report from the property services department, it concludes what the staff has done to prevent …

Health & Environment

How district councillor is helping the community

Amid the shortage of sanitary equipment, the newly elected district councillor Jimmy Sham in Lek Yuen area has been distributing masks to the residents in his district.  With most of its residents being elderly, Jimmy Sham is worried that such an old area would have a higher chance of coronavirus outbreak. “As the elderly are having poorer immunity than normal people, they are more likely to catch diseases. So if the coronavirus is spread here, that would be a big issue.” However, elderly in the estate usually have less social resources to catch up information for buying masks. Ms. Chan is among them. The 64-year-old woman has reused her surgical mask for a week, and she was going to use it again tomorrow. "We really don’t have many left at home. And we need to spare some for my son because he needs to go out to work everyday." "Some people have donated a few boxes of masks to us. We are figuring out how to distribute them in a relatively fair way, as we can't help them all," said the councillor. In order to benefit more people, they unboxed all the masks and repacked them for every 10 masks. Instead of distributing the masks to all the residents, they registered for around 600 residents who have asked for help, and spare enough masks for them.  Ms. Chan has got two packs, in a total of 20 masks, for her 3-people family. She was happy about the service of the new district councillor. "He is helpful as he knows we do not have enough masks." However, the method of distribution has aroused dissatisfaction among the community. A 78 years old man complained that he did not know they were distributing masks, therefore he didn’t register beforehand. "We have already tried …

Health & Environment

Stress grocery shopping in Tai Po Market

The wide-spreading coronavirus has shattered the city. In fear of getting infected, people have been avoiding leaving their homes, even many companies have started the "work from home" arrangement. Unlike other districts in Hong Kong, the streets in Tai Po are filled with people, rushing from place to place to buy as many necessities as they could. With rumors of the coronavirus that would last for months spreading around the city, people are hoarding necessities in preparation for sudden self-quantization.