Society

Society

Budget Address 2021: No cash handout amid recession; $5,000 e-vouchers for eligible residents

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced in his budget speech Wednesday there will be no cash handout for this financial year. But electronic vouchers of HK$5,000 will be issued in instalments to each Hong Kong permanent resident and new arrival aged 18 or above to encourage local consumption. The measure, which involves about HK$36 billion, is expected to benefit more than 7.2 million people, Mr Chan said.  The government has not said yet where the vouchers can be spent or how they will be given out. “The HK$5,000 e-voucher cannot tackle the current situation and provides limited support to citizens who have been struggling throughout the pandemic,” said Owan Li, Tai Kok Tsui North district councilor.  The numbers have been grim. Under the global sweep of the coronavirus, Hong Kong’s economy has shrunk by 6.1% for two consecutive years, hitting the highest annual decline on record.  The unemployment rate surged to 7% in the fourth quarter of 2020, reaching a 17-year high.  Tourism-related sectors are hard hit as they reached the highest jobless rate since SARS in 2003.  Retail, accommodation and food services sectors have suffered a surge in the unemployment rate to 11.3%. Tourism sectors have frozen with extensive global travel restrictions, and the export travel service plummeted by 90.5% “I actually agree with the government decision to not launch another cash handout since it has not been effective,” said Angus Chan, an employee dismissed from the InterContinental Hotel during the pandemic and now works in the Rosewood Hotel.  He has one to two no-pay leave days per week at the new job, and some of his shifts are cut, he said.  As the world continues to restrict travel, the hospitality industry is uncertain about when it will recuperate from the pandemic. Small and medium enterprises are hoping the …

Society

A third of pupils back in classes after schools agree to COVID rules

Students from about 2000 schools can now resume half-day classes while schools can have a full half-day resumption if all members of staff have the COVID-19 test every 2 weeks. But The Professional Teachers Union doubts if the frequent testing is needed for teachers.  

Society

Mosques in the city reopen following relaxation of Covid-19 social distancing measures

Hong Kong’s mosques opened on Feb 19 for prayers after being shut for almost three months.  Members of the Muslim community flocked to the mosque following the announcement from the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong - the official body representing the city's Muslims. All five official mosques are open to conduct prayers with social distancing measures in place.  The city's mosques have been closed since December intermittently every two weeks which were put in place to combat the fourth coronavirus wave.  “It was a sense of relief, a sense of joy,” said Adeel Malik, chairman of the Muslim Council of Hong Kong.  He added that many Muslims were longing for the mosques to open, but also noted that the government implemented strict measures for the larger good of the community.  The opening of the mosques coincided with the weekly Friday prayers, which is an important day of the week for the Islamic faith.  Religious sermons are held during Fridays on issues in both the Muslim and wider communities in Hong Kong.  One of the weekly sermon topics were "Lessons from Lockdown", where Mufti Muhammad Arshad, the chief Imam of the Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Centre urged the community to unite against the pandemic regardless of race or religion.  Muslims came to the city as sailors in 1829, working for the British-owned Jardine Matheson, a shipping company.  By the 1850s, the growing Muslim community led to the formation of the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund, which became the official representative body for Muslims in Hong Kong.  

Society

Ma On Shan historical iron mine landmarks to disappear under rezoning plan

Wong Mei-fong, 55, still remembers her childhood summers in Pun Shan, a small village in the New Territories in Ma On Shan: catching shrimp in the rivers of the backyard garden, playing with mud with her neighbors who also helped them to renovate their house and playing hide-and-seek behind the old tree of the village temple.  These places will only be retained in memories if the amendment to the Ma On Shan Outline Zoning Plan passes. The Wong family represents three generations of villagers born and raised in this former iron ore mining village. Now, Pun Shan is marked for redevelopment in the amendment to Ma On Shan Outline Zoning Plan, originally approved in 2016 to develop 814 hectares of land. The new proposal will add  9.67 hectares from seven green belt lands, the size of approximately 27 football fields, and will cut around 3,560 trees, according to the villagers. The village land will be developed into a private estate and government, institution and community lands.  A group of villagers are actively protesting the amendment, working with district councillors and local green NGOs and setting up social media accounts to raise awareness. Villagers have held around 10 demonstrations to raise awareness of their plight. “My parents don’t have much energy to protest and some of the elderlies are not familiar with social media, so we as the younger generation, take up this job to reach out to the public and attract more people to take part in preserving Pun Shan Village,” said Wong Yuk-hong, 29, the son of Ms Wong and the organizer of the rezoning plan protest. As one of the oldest mining villages in Ma On Shan, Pun Shan village witnessed the mining industry from its beginnings in 1906 to prosperity and finally to its closure in 1976. …

Society

Privacy concerns drive people away from evening dine-in

Despite relaxed social distancing rules and resumed dinner service, some Hongkongers still won’t eat out over the fear of personal data collected by the authority as the government requires all diners to record their detailed information for potential virus tracing. Eateries can resume dine-in service until 10pm with a maximum four people per table from Thursday, as long as they fulfill prerequisites, including staff getting Covid-19 tests every two weeks and diners recording personal information by scanning a QR code through the official “Leave Home Safe” app or by other means. The government’s controversial contact-tracing app has raised public concerns over privacy issues and abuse of data, as it will access user phone storage. Despite some online calls for boycotting the app, as of Thursday, the app download has surged to over 1 million since its launch in mid-November and seized the top position in the App Store.  “I see no reason for customers leaving personal information when eating out,” said restaurant operator Ryan Lo Tsz-yeung. “Our restaurants also have no right to ask for diners’ information.” Health officials have said on separate occasions that the virus-exposure app will only let the government know “who was present at the venues at a specific time” for potential tracing, while the encrypted data will only be stored in user phones for 31 days. Hong Kong Baptist University’s “BU-Trace,” launched last October and led by Xu Jianliang, Associate Head of the Department of Computer Science, is an alternative to the official app, Prof Xu said. “People can use other apps to check whether their information has been transferred to servers if they are skeptical of the government,” Prof Xu said.  Prof Xu also said the government could make their app open source, meaning publishing the software code for people to inspect the operating …

Society

“No experience, no technology, no talent”: how poor supervision of tech investment in China lead to a waste of funds

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: CAO Jingyi、Li Shiwen、Mereen Santirad、Wang ZiweiEdited by: Janice Lo
  • 2021-02-17

Hongxing Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (HSMC), a government-backed manufacturing project in Wuhan, has gone belly-up. The 128 billion yuan (HK$153 billion) project is now just an abandoned construction site. The weeds have grown over what is supposed to be the floor of the factory. Local authorities reported that the project was stagnant due to “poor planning and shortage of funds”. The semiconductor business in China has a history of fraudulent players. Two decades ago, the much-hyped Hanxin microchip project, also known as “heart of the Han” processor was later discovered to be a scam. Workers at the plant were simply replacing Motorola brand chips with the Hanxin logo.The developer, a university professor from Jiaotong University in Shanghai, was found to have stolen the technology from Motorola. He was later found guilty of fraud and banned from state funded projects. In July 2020, Dekema (Nanjing) Semiconductor Technology Co. Ltd declared bankruptcy due to “financial difficulties”, leaving behind 19 billion yuan (HKD$23 billion) in unpaid debt and wages. China’s state council set a goal to become a global leader in the semiconductor industry by 2030 and aims to produce 70% of the semiconductor by 2025. The central government put up about 764 billion yuan (HK$465 billion) in the industry over the five years, including 388 billion yuan (HK$465 billion) from provincial and municipal governments, according to the report by the Central for Strategic and International Studies. However, the plan to create a domestic semiconductor industry was just a little successful due to “no experience, no technology, and no talent” of the semiconductor industry, for instance, HSMC.  The company received 15.3 billion yuan (HK$18.3 billion) funding for the operation in 2019, according to the Wuhan Municipal and Reform Commission.  By July 2020, HSMC was already in trouble. Construction of the factory had stalled since …

Society

China’s online college cheats offer Zoom babysitting during pandemic

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Cai Zhiling、Chen Wantong、Dong Shuer、Wang HeyuEdited by: Sara Cheng
  • 2021-02-17

China’s academic cheating agencies that write college essays for a fee are cashing in by offering Zoom babysitting services. Ghostwriters would attend online classes and write the exams so that customers don’t have to do anything at all.  Search “ghost-writing” on any Chinese social media platform and you will likely end up with a bunch of commercials for so-called ghostwriters. These are companies or self-organised teams which charge a fee for writing academic papers and assignments. Customers only need to provide information about subject requirements and the due date of the work. The ghostwriters then do the work but get none of the credit. We contacted agencies that do virtual exams for students via text messages. One agency, Giant GPA, for example, comes up with a package price of $1699 US dollars for writing essays, attending Zoom sessions and writing the exam with the camera switched on. That works out at more than $13,000 Hong Kong dollars, about a third of the annual fee for an undergraduate degree in Hong Kong.  Another essay mill, TOP gave a quote of  6,500 to 7,500 yuan (HK$7,780 to HK$8,977), with a guaranteed 60 marks in exams and a B-, or 80 marks for online classes. If the online exam is under invigilation, the client would have to take pictures of the questions and send them to the tutor, who will stand by and respond simultaneously. "Make sure you pay attention to the angle ( at which the photo is taken)," the agent reminded The Young Reporter. He added that TOP would generally not attend Zoom classes for clients.  Another agency, Finger would charge 1500 to 2200 yuan (HK$1,795 to HK$2,633) for a group project, two written assignments plus a final exam. The same ghostwriter would do all the work for the course. Clients, …

Society

Hotel workers call for recognition of their efforts during COVID-19

Local hotel workers are demanding a one-off subsidy in recognition of their contribution in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. They also want priority in vaccination because of the risks they have to take. The Hong Kong Housekeeping Employers Association and Hotels, Food & Beverage Employees Association said in a press conference today that the government should provide a one-off subsidy of $3,000 for each worker. They urged the government to increase the capacity of banquets from 20 to 80 people and set up an Emergency Relief Fund for hotel workers who lost their jobs. “Housekeepers have to put on personal protective equipment when cleaning the rooms used for quarantine. But the equipment limits their movements, and cleaning time has increased from 30 minutes to almost two hours,” said Hector Ngai Chee-keung, the membership affairs officer of the Hong Kong Housekeeping Employers Association. He said housekeepers now have an increased workload because of strict hygiene standards for both staycation and quarantine guests. “Housekeepers need one to one-and-a-half hours to clean each room because they find red wine stains on carpet, rotten fruit and peanuts shells in the rooms,” said Mr Ngai. By providing a one-off subsidy of $3,000 for each worker, Mr Ngai said it could reward those who have maintained professionalism amid the pandemic. Nerine Yip Lau-ching, Secretary-general of the Hotels, Food & Beverage Employees Association said that it is crucial for hotel workers to get vaccinated first because they face a high risk of catching COVID-19 when serving food. “By allowing us to have a higher priority for vaccination and encouraging the public to get vaccinated, it could prevent a fifth wave of the pandemic from hitting Hong Kong,” added Cheung Tsz-yeung, director of the Hotels, Food & Beverage Employees Association. Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan Shiu-chee announced today that …

Society

Social distancing measures to relax on Thursday as COVID-19 cases fall

Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan Shiu-chee announced today that social distancing measures will ease from Feb. 18. Hong Kong recorded nine new cases of Covid-19 today, the second consecutive day in the single digits. Prof. Chan said that in view of the low number of COVID-19 cases, catering businesses can provide dine-in services until 10 pm and the maximum capacity per table will be increased from two to four people. Some businesses such as sports facilities, gyms, beauty parlours, cinemas, and game centres can also be reopened for business until 10 pm, provided that their staff undergo virus testing every 14 days. “Owners and staff should undergo the first virus testing between Feb. 11 to Feb. 25,” added Prof. Chan. People entering these premises are required to scan the QR codes using the Leave Home Safe app or register their personal information along with visiting date and time to record their whereabouts.  Prof. Chan warned that if restaurants and other premises do not comply with the requirements, their opening hours for dine-in services will be shortened to 6 pm and the number of people per table will again be restricted to two people. They may also be subject to temporary closure of between 3-14 days. Meanwhile, bars, nightclubs, bathhouses, party rooms, mahjong parlours, swimming pools and karaoke establishments will remain closed. 

Society

Party rooms break COVID rules

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Alice Wan、Anson So、Michael Wong、Willison MakEdited by: Jasmine Tse
  • 2021-02-15

The Hong Kong government ordered the closure of party rooms on Nov. 22  last year after an outbreak linked to the Starlight dance club. But some party rooms have since neglected the restrictions and continued to serve customers as usual. Kt_partyroom in Kwun Tong, for example, is still available for booking through direct messaging on Instagram. “If you do not want to reserve the entire room (minimum price of HK$2,500) and there is another group of customers that night, you need to share the room with strangers,” the owner told us on the chat. We were able to make a reservation for Nov. 25,  three days after the government suspension on party rooms took into effect. Some party rooms allow more than four people to gather despite ban According to the Hong Kong Party Room Association Facebook post, a party room is defined as a place that provides physical indoor venues for short-term commercial lease for private events, be it leisure, entertainment or for business. The premises must be independent premises with a fixed address in Hong Kong. Reservations are necessary and they must not provide accommodation, food or sell alcohol. Government regulations on party rooms have changed repeatedly since March, but many ignore the rules and allow more guests than what’s legal under social distancing measures.     Photo credit: Partyroom_monster’s Instagram In October, when social distancing rules were already in effect, more than 20 people, none of them wearing masks, posted photos of their gathering on Instagram. They proudly said that the premises were 200 square feet, with karaoke, mahjong and more. Many were holding drinks. On Feb. 12, 11 out of 19 people in a family tested positive for COVID-19. They were all in the “Hot Pot Party Room Group”. Lam Hon Yin, president of the Hong …