Health & Environment

Society

Lack of transparency in quarantine policies in China

For university students, the Winter break is supposed to be relaxing. But for Knightley Liu and me, returning to the mainland from Hong Kong began with a 14-day quarantine in a hotel room ridden with cockroaches and more. With the coronavirus pandemic unabated, quarantine policies are now common worldwide. Mainland China's quarantine policies vary from place to place, depending on local governments. There is a limited number of flights between Hong Kong and major mainland cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. So Shenzhen and Zhuhai, the only two mainland cities that have road connections with Hong Kong, are popular among people who choose to be quarantined elsewhere before they go to their final destinations. To cope with the large group of inbound travellers, Shenzhen and Zhuhai have adopted corresponding measures. Shenzhen now requires travellers to reserve a place, without a choice of hotel before they enter the city, and sets the daily limit to only 2,000 returnees. There are currently only six shuttle buses from the Hong Kong border to Zhuhai daily, each carrying a maximum of 40 people. The Hotel: No Choice After crossing the border into the mainland, Kightley and I were taken to a bus bound for the quarantine hotel, while I received no response when I asked medical officials where I am going. I could only check my location on a map. In Hong Kong, the Department of Health provides a list of hotels that inbound tourists can choose from, with the room rates and various hotel policies such as whether the hotel offers takeaway services. But in the mainland, travellers can choose how much they wish to pay and the kind of facilities which they want to stay in, but not the actual hotel. Knightley, a mainland year three student from Hong Kong,who returned to the …

Society

Are colorful masks safe for health and environment?

Searching in the bags with colorful masks, Amy Ng picked out a blue purple one that matched the color of her blue denim jacket. Amy Ng, a 40-year-old lady, is heading to Tsim Sha Tsui to purchase some colorful masks for her family. “Since you have to wear a mask every day,” said Ms Ng, “why not wear it beautifully and happily?”  Masks have become a daily necessity in Hong Kong where the fourth wave of the epidemic is raging. Recently, colorful printed masks have become popular. But there are doubts whether they are compromising safety for fashion. The Centre for Health Protection website recommends using masks that have three layers: the water-repellent outer layer, the filter layer and the hydrophilic inner layer. The outermost layer is usually made of polypropylene, a non-woven fabric. It is the most crucial layer because it can prevent liquid from splashing, to stop the flying droplets from contacting the middle layer as well as the mouth and nose. “Traditionally the masks are blue, green and white. It is safe because the dye is already mixed with the materials,” said Joanne Yip, an associate professor at the Institute of Textiles and Clothing Department of Hong Kong Polytechnic University. To make the traditional blue and green masks, producers will put the dye into the polypropylene, melting them together and screening the fabrics out, according to Dr Yip.  With Christmas approaching, some stores now offer an array of masks with everything from Christmas trees, to reindeer and snowman.  MF Living is a store in Tsim Sha Tsui that offers more than 240 kinds of colorful masks. “Since our store opened in October, there has been a long queue of customers almost every day,” said Angela Lau, a saleswoman at MF Living. Ten masks cost HK$38 while DIY …

Health & Environment

Unhygienic Masks Sold Online Despite Ban

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Lisa Liu、LIN Zhihuai 林知懐、Sophia Sheng、Jade ZhouEdited by: Mark Chen
  • 2020-12-30

In November, Tony Chan, a vendor on the sales platform, Carousell, was offering to sell face masks for $250 a box. He agreed to meet us at an MTR station to collect the cash. But one hour before the scheduled meeting time, Mr Chan stopped responding to our messages. The brand of mask Mr Chan was selling, Bedah Karet Masker, had been seized by Hong Kong Customs in April after tests showed it contains an excessive amount of bacteria. Carousell is a Singapore-based online platform where users can buy and sell new or second-handed products. Apart from merchandise, it also offers tutoring services, properties and jobs. Counterfeit and prohibited products are supposedly not allowed, but there are no checks or enforcement procedures. There is also no specific regulation on the sale of face masks. "For masks, certification is not required, as long as they comply with the specifications in the listing rules on Carousell,"  a customer service spokesperson from Carousell explained during a live online chat with us. The Bedah Karet Masker masks Tony Chan offered was one of 15  [identifiable] brands seized by Hong Kong Customs under "Guardian", an operation in April this year to crack down on masks that did not comply with the Trade Description Ordinance. Since January, nearly 6 million masks have been confiscated by officers.   Test results show that 10 of the 15 brands seized had excessive levels of bacteria. Most of the packaging did not list where the products were manufactured. Hong Kong Customs said in a press release that most of the masks came from Southeast Asia or Central Asia.   Still on sale Seven months after the Hong Kong Customs operation was launched, our observation indicates that four of the problematic brands are still being sold through Carousell. These include AD …

Health & Environment

Various experiences of mainland students' semi-closed post pandemic campus life--reasonable, formalised or creativity motivating?

As the new autumn semester began in September, 31 provinces have arranged students back to school for on-campus teaching according to the Ministry of Education. To better control COVID-19, universities have established a semi school-disclosure policy. It means students are not allowed to go out of school as usual. Universities implemented many protection measures to prevent COVID-19 as well.   Among many universities' school closure policies, Tsing Hua University has done a good job according to the Beijing Municipal Education Commission. "Tsing Hua University currently implements a filing system with an app called Tsing hua zijing app," according to the Beijing Municipal Education Commission. Acting as a tracking and reporting system, it is mandatory for students to use this wherever they go. When students leave school, they need to report the reasons for leaving the school, travel trajectory, time of entry and exit on the online system in advance. After filling in advance, they can enter and exit the campus without approval.  "This seems to lack the restraint of one student, but by giving students a certain degree of autonomy and inspiring everyone's awareness of epidemic prevention, it can eventually implement epidemic prevention measures," said Liyi, the Deputy Secretary of Beijing Municipal Education Working Committee, Spokesperson of Municipal Education Committee. Linked with every student's student ID, Tsing Hua zijing app tracks each student's location in Tsinghua university through their QR code scan record on campus. "When entering any interior space such as a canteen, a dorm or a classroom, we have to use this app to scan local QR code before the entrance," said Zhang Zhihao in a chat interview, a year 4 student in the department of civil engineering in Tsinghua University.  Moreover, this app has a function of "Report Body Temperature", which is connected to a robot body temperature …

Society

Airbnb quarantine service boosts with local residents' concern

A girl with an electronic wristband dragged her huge suitcase into a building but dared not make a sound.  Chen Yanni, a student from the mainland, was going to do her 14-day quarantine in a flat in a residential building listed on Airbnb. Many mainland students, like Yanni, preferred to be quarantined in an Airbnb flat rather than a hotel. The fact that renters of Airbnb are not required to provide their travel history and usually conduct self-quarantine raises concern over hygiene safety among local residents. Airbnb, the world's largest lodging platform, has been operating in Hong Kong for four years. Up to July 2020, the number of mainland students who stated their intention to study in Hong Kong increased by 30.77% from the previous month, according to Kai Tak Education, a mainland education agency for Hong Kong Universities Application. At Hong Kong Baptist University, more than 90 Year 2 and Year 3 mainland students returned to Hong Kong for the new semester in September. That’s about one-third of the mainland students at the University. "Compared with hotels, Airbnb has the advantages of having cooking facilities. I am less lonely and space is bigger," Ms Chen explained. She quarantined with two friends in an Airbnb apartment in Tsim Sha Tsui. "No outdoor activity for 14 days is already frustrating enough, not to mention in a very tiny space," Ms Chen added. She wanted to live somewhere that felt more like home.   On the Airbnb listing, there was no description of whether this apartment accepts quarantine tenants. Potential tenants need to personally message the house owner to ask. "After texting about 30 landlords in person on Airbnb, about 28 replied that they accepted quarantine but needed to make sure nobody would notice us when we enter the apartments," said Ms …

Society

US Traveller seeking help from Facebook Support Group

Back in July, when he was helping his mom look through Reddit for Hong Kong travel information, Brian stumbled upon the Hong Kong Quarantine Support Group on Facebook.  Brian, who refused to disclose his full name because of privacy issues, a Hongkonger who works in the legal industry, travelled from Los Angeles to Hong Kong at the end of August because of an expiring American visa. Joining the Facebook group in late July after the Hong Kong government implemented the Cap. 599H Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation, Brian was never worried about the inbound trip back to Hong Kong.  "I wasn't too stressed about it. I was just thinking I had another month, so I would follow the situation on Facebook," he said. The Facebook group, created on March 17 by the initiative of Kunj Gandhi, now has more than 18,000 members worldwide, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, the US, and the UK. "In this brand new world when so many felt so isolated and had so many questions, we wanted to reach out and help create a place where people could gain information, comfort, and community," Tess Lyons, a moderator of the Hong Kong Quarantine Support Group, said. With an average of 50 daily posts appearing on the page, the support group serves as a forum for anyone who seeks answers and insights regarding travelling to Hong Kong. Common discussion topics include pre- and post-arrival Covid-19 testing, Hong Kong airport procedures, public transportation arrangements, hotel recommendations, and food delivery services. The legal officer contacted a woman who successfully boarded from Los Angeles in the group and went to the same laboratory for the necessary documents. "If Person A found success by going to this laboratory and using these documents, the safest thing to do is to do …

Health & Environment

Policy Address 20/21: Lantau island reclamation: Hong Kong hiker fears "backyard garden" be gone forever

Johnny Wong remembers every detail of the day trip with his family 30 years ago to Tung Chung - the farmlands and ditches, the taste of the chips he got from the tuck shop and shared with his sisters and the Chinese restaurant where they ordered a corn and fish maw soup and steamed fish.  The 41-year old cultivated a passion for hiking when he was young and has been an eco guide since 2004 and a geopark guide since 2010. Four years ago, he published a book on mountains and trails. "Every time you hike, you feel like you're at home. You can unburden your emotions and feel relieved and absorb positivity," he said, adding that nature has comforted him when he was laid off or had troubles in his career.  But now Tung Chung is a sprawling complex of housing and airport infrastructure. A similar story might repeat for Mr Wong's 4-year old daughter, he said, who had a glance of the unbounded ocean and sky of Peng Chau when her parents took her on a trip there. But the view she will see in 15 years will be different if the government carries on with its ambitious development plan called Lantau Tomorrow Vision.  The plan will build housing on 1,000 hectares of reclaimed land, equivalent to one-third the size of Kowloon, around the tiny, undeveloped island of Peng Chau, just off the coast of Lantau Island. The proposal is estimated to cost HK$624 billion and will take at least 15 years. The first phrase can provide up to 260,000 flats in a bid to seek new land supply to combat long-lasting housing problems. The project also aims to build the "third Core Business District."   "There will be buildings," Mr Wong said, pointing at the water encircled by …

Health & Environment

COVID-19: China to reserve vaccines for Hongkongers, Carrie Lam says

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Simran Vaswani、Jasmine Tse、Janice LoEdited by: Cara Li
  • 2020-11-25

China will reserve a portion of its vaccines specifically for Hong Kongers, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in the policy address on Wednesday. "We have enough money to procure vaccines to safeguard the health of Hong Kong people," said Mrs Lam. Benjamin Cowling, division head of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong, said he was pleased to hear about vaccinations coming in from the mainland and hoped the city would be vaccinated by the end of next year.  However, the government needs a more comprehensive vaccination plan soon. "It is not only about the vision but the details: how we will get millions of doses, who will get vaccinated first," said Prof. Cowling.  He said countries like the UK and US are expected to roll out vaccinations as soon as the next three to four weeks.  Hong Kong joined COVAX, a global vaccine initiative, along with 184 countries. The COVID-19 global vaccine alliance aims to work directly with vaccine manufacturers to provide low and middle-income countries with equitable global access to vaccines.  China is also part of the coalition and aims to provide the COVAX network with a domestically-made vaccine. With two pharmaceutical companies in the mainland undergoing clinical trials, China aims to procure a vaccine for the market by the end of this year. A one-off $5000 subsidy was announced on Monday to those who test positive for the virus. The fund is for patients that may face financial difficulties when hospitalised. The government also implemented Cap. 599J — The Prevention & Control of Disease Regulation on Nov. 14, allowing private doctors to do testing with patients with COVID-19 symptoms. Patients have to conduct the virus testing as advised by medical practitioners within 14 days. More facilities would be available for COVID-19 patients as …

Health & Environment

COVID-19: Hong Kong might see more mass testing

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Simran Vaswani、Jasmine Tse、Janice LoEdited by: Cara Li
  • 2020-11-25

Hong Kong might see wide-spread COVID-19 community testing again, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in the policy address on Wednesday, as the city sees the highest number of infections since this summer, sparking a fourth wave.  Testing would be voluntary, she said, and targeting high-risk groups and asymptotic carriers. "It is essential for us to take all necessary measures to strengthen epidemic control by guarding against the importation of cases and the resurgence of domestic infections," said Mrs. Lam.  The first large-scale universal community testing was conducted in September with 1.78 million people tested, around 20% of the city's total population. The mass testing found 42 COVID-19 infections. Vinci Chan Hei-man, a registered nurse, agreed with the government's decision. "If implemented, such a step needs to properly target high-risk groups," said Ms. Chan.  "[Testing] has to be accompanied by stringent contact tracing and a population that understands the importance of strict adherence to social distancing rules," she added. A cluster was linked to elderly care homes in July, which caused a surge in the coronavirus death toll in the city, which is now 108. Hon Pierre Chan, legislative council member from the medical sector, said in a press conference that testing for high-risk groups is a "pragmatic and ideal" measure. "Even for the seasonal influenza, not all citizens are willing to get vaccinated. It is important not to force citizens to do testing," said Dr. Chan. Dr. Chan said Hong Kongers are hoping for stricter border control. He urged the government to block loopholes in border control policies.  Travellers from high-risk places such as the US, UK and India, need to provide proof of a negative virus test before boarding planes and a hotel confirmation for their 14-day quarantine.  A quarantine-free travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore …

Society

Hong Kong celebrates 'Once In a Blue Moon' Halloween amid COVID-19

Traditionally, Halloween has been a festival for people to dress up as different characters and go trick-or-treating. But, the Halloween of 2020 has been a different one: Hong Kong is celebrating the festival under COVID-19, along with a 'blue moon'. The blue moon phenomenon, which refers to the second full moon in the same calendar month, is also the origin of the English phrase 'once in a blue moon'. The first blue moon appeared during the Mid-Autumn festival in early October.  "We are excited to see what everybody is talking about, and also looking forward to seeing it [the blue moon]," said Alex Nathan, 45, who came to the West Kowloon Cultural District to take part in Halloween activities such as face painting. Mr. Nathan also brought four other children to the District, with all of them dressed up as different characters, including a vampire and ballerina.   "The blue moon is making the day more special," said Will Mok To-Wing, 31, and Rebecca Cho Miu-Kwan, 24. Mr. Mok and Ms. Cho decorated their gathering venue with outdoor chairs and pumpkin lanterns, while also sharing food with their friends. Under the blue moon were a group of adults and children dressed as the hit Japanese game character Mario, which were bought from an online shopping platform for less than HK$500.  "We wanted to dress up at a low cost and with clothes that can have different recognizable colours, so we chose Mario," said Cuby Lau Pui-Yu, 32, who put on a green Mario costume, along with her former classmates and their children. Apart from the costumes, Mr. Nathan, Mr. Mok, Ms. Cho, and Ms. Lau also carried face masks and hand sanitizers in their bags, with the pandemic still looming large in the city.  Due to COVID-19 and unstable weather in …