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Lessons from SARS: what Hong Kong learned in fighting the coronavirus

Long queues at supermarkets and pharmacies are common in Hong Kong these days. Face masks, toilet paper and rice are sought after in the city's fight against the novel coronavirus. The panic in Hong Kong started on January 23 soon after the first case of novel coronavirus infection was confirmed in this city. As a city with close ties with mainland China, the situation in Hong Kong is not optimistic. By March 29, Hong Kong health authorities have confirmed 642 cases. So far, four people have died. As the number of cases on the mainland continues to climb, there are protests at railway stations in Hong Kong by those who want the government to close the border with the mainland. Thousands of medical workers went on a one-week strike because they could not cope with the influx of new cases from the mainland. Doctors and nurses accused the authorities of failing to protect their safety. It's not the first time Hong Kong faces a city-wide health crisis. This new disease known as COVID-19, is caused by a new type of coronavirus that has certain similarities with the coronavirus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2003, and Hong Kong learned some important lessons 17 years ago that are relevant to the current epidemic. Back then, SARS killed 299 of the 1,755 people infected. A housing complex, Amoy Gardens in Kowloon Bay, was the hardest hit area. There were 321 cases.  "Amoy Gardens was like a dead city at the time. No one came here. All the shops were shut," a resident at Amoy Gardens who didn't want to disclose his name recalls. Investigators later found that the virus had spread through the sewage pipes. Instead of washing their floors and flushing water down the pipes, people simply mopped. U-traps in the pipes …

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. …

Culture & Leisure

Dark tourism in Chernobyl

Still remember Chernobyl where the nuclear disaster happened more than 30 years ago? Nowadays, Chernobyl has become one of the main tourist attractions in Ukraine. Watch and know more about dark tourism.

Business

Hong Kong budget plan subsidizes employment programmes under weak economy

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: BellaHuang、Cynthia Lin、ShukmanSo、Sunny SunEdited by: Mark Chen、AlecLastimosa
  • 2020-02-27

The Hong Kong government will provide additional annual funding of $30 million for employment programmes of the Labour Department to relieve job loss and financial pressure on individuals and companies, said Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po in the Feb 26 budget plan. The economy in Hong Kong has been hit hard by the outbreak of the coronavirus and months of anti-government protests, which makes the labour market subject to huge pressure. According to the Census and Statistics Department, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Hong Kong has risen to 3.4% from November 2019 to January 2020.  Over the same period, the employed population has decreased by over 10,000 to 3.80 million, and the number of people available for work has dropped by around 16,300 to 3.93 million. "The labour market eased further as economic conditions continued to worsen," said Law Chi-kwong, Secretary for Labour and Welfare. "The year-on-year decline in total employment widened further," he added. Dr Law said that the dramatic fall in employment rate signified that some people may have chosen to leave the labour force after losing their jobs. In light of the worsened employment situation, Paul Chan encourages employers to hire the elderly, the disabled and young school leavers by raising the ceiling of on-the-job training allowance under different employment programmes. The Youth Employment and Training Programme is a pre-training programme for all young school leavers aged 15 to 24. Participants of the programme can apply for one-month internships provided by the government, welfare agencies and private enterprises, as well as an internship allowance of $45,800. "I came to Hong Kong last year and worked as a handyman. But our industry has been affected by anti-government protests since last September," said Wong Tsz-Hong, 23, who has been working after graduating from high school in Foshan, Guangdong. …

Business

Health sector calls for wise spending on $75 billion fund for Hospital Authority

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Tomiris Urstembayeva、Han Xu、Leone Xue、RonaldFanEdited by: Tomiris Urstembayeva、Han Xu、Leone Xue、RonaldFan
  • 2020-02-26

Financial Secretary, Paul Chan, has made the fight against COVID-19 a priority in this year's budget. In his speech in Legco on Wednesday, he promised $75 billion will be granted to the Hospital Authority, however, some professionals worried that the budget is not going to be spent wisely.  "They are not managing their money effectively. The government should be monitoring how the HA uses the money effectively and properly," said Cyrus Lau Hoi Man, a registered nurse and an officer of Hong Kong Allied Health Professionals and Nurses Association. Out of the $75 billion, $30 billion will be spent on setting up Anti-epidemic Fund to facilitate the provision of prevention supplies by sourcing them worldwide, while supporting local production to satisfy soaring demand.  "Making good use of fiscal reserves to support enterprises and relieve people's hardship is certainly in line with our people's expectations towards the government under the current difficult environment," said Financial Secretary, Paul Chan Mo-po. The Hospital Authority will get $600 million to increase manpower and improve the quality of. Services. Another $650 million will go toward supporting the District Health Centre in Kwai Tsing and to set up six more centres around Hong Kong in the coming two years.  "(We) will continue to allocate resources to promote district-based primary healthcare services, with a view to enhancing the public's capability in self-health management and providing community support for chronically ill patients," said Mr Chan.  Rehiring retired doctors and nurses is one of the ways the government is planning to solve the doctor shortage. But according to Mr Lau, this solution is only "a bottle of water to put out a big fire" as retired doctors are not as "energetic" as the younger ones. He also thinks that it's necessary to propose "punishment" to avoid any unfairness in …

Challenges that local businesses are facing

  • 2020-02-26
  • The Young Reporter
  • By: SamuelMo、Carol Mang、Moon LamEdited by: SamuelMo、Carol Mang、Moon Lam
  • 2020-02-26

Government is pumping money for businesses amid the outbreak of the coronavirus. The Financial Secretary has released measures, including reducing profit tax, waiving the rates, and subsidizing the electricity bills, to offer relief to businesses amid the coronavirus outbreak

Budget relief measures to ease Hong Kong's financial woes

  • 2020-02-26
  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Cherry Lee、Cassie Zhang、Hong-shun WongEdited by: YanniChow
  • 2020-02-26

The aims of this year's budget are "supporting enterprises, safeguarding jobs, stimulating the economy and relieving people’s burden", Financial Secretary, Paul Chan Mo-po said in his fourth budget speech in the Legislative Council this morning.    Despite an expected decline in government revenue next year, a cash payout of $10,000 will be distributed to about seven million local permanent residents aged 18 and above. That will cost about $71 billion in taxpayers' money. "The government has to increase public expenditure amid an economic downturn to stimulate the economy and ride out the difficult times with members of the public." Financial Secretary, Paul Chan told legislators. The aim of the payout is to "encourage and boost local consumption and relieve people’s financial burden," he said. The $10,000 is expected to be distributed in the Summer, Mr Chan explained in the press conference after the budget speech.  Salary tax and profit tax will also be reduced by up to 100% with the ceiling of $20,000.This measure will cost the government $18.9 billion, benefiting about 2.05 million taxpayers. The government will also be waiving rates in respect of residential properties for four quarters of 2020-21, with a ceiling of $1,500 per quarter for each rateable property, remaining the same as last year. The proposed tax reduction is not applicable to property tax. However, individuals with rental income can enjoy tax reduction under personal assessment, Businesses can secure low-interest loans of up to $2 million under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme to help them overcome the economic downturn. That will cost the Treasury up to $20 billion.  Enterprises will also benefit from waiving of rates for non-domestic properties, business registration fees and registration fees for all annual returns in the coming year.  The Financial Secretary also pointed out that even though the expected fiscal deficit …

Business

Coronavirus outbreak forced people to work from home

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Kylan Goh、Leone XueEdited by: Clara Ip、Mark Chen、Mereen Santirad
  • 2020-02-19

Zhang Yuxiang, a fresh graduate lawyer in Fuzhou, mainland China, has been working through online meetings since the coronavirus started. He hasn't come closer to what he dreams about - working in bed while snuggling with a cat. Mr Zhang enjoys working from home since it provides flexibility during office hours. "I have more free time and sometimes I can even loaf on the job since most of my cases are not in a hurry at this stage," he said. Employees in mainland China have started to work online at home to quarantine themselves from the rampant novel coronavirus. On February 13, the Hong Kong government also announced the "Work from Home" arrangement that will last until February 23.  Although it's convenient to work from home, Mr Zhang feels that people may use Internet delay to excuse their inefficiency, adding that communicating with colleagues is one of the major difficulties.  "I spent most of the time waiting for others to reply," said Mr Zhang, feeling annoyed while checking his WeChat to see if he gets any reply from his colleagues. "Even a simple conversation can take up a whole day," he added.  With the city shut down, on-site work could not proceed. "The procuratorate and the court are not open to the public during this period. Trials and many cases that need follow-up are postponed," said Mr Zhang. However, some employees found that working online has brought them closer to their family. "Home office lets my parents understand what I am doing," said Wang Yiqing, a Chinese teacher at a high school in mainland China. Ms Wang's mother is also a teacher, but she could never understand the notion of self-learning.  "She thought self-learning is just an excuse for being an irresponsible teacher," said Ms Wang. "I'm glad she finally …

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

Rumours on social media sparked Hong Kong's toilet paper run

For more than two weeks, toilet paper has been hard to come by at supermarkets around Hong Kong. At ParknShop in City One Shatin housing estate, shelves which normally used to be loaded with toilet rolls are now left empty. The store had to put up a sign on the empty shelves saying that as soon as toilet paper is restocked, each customer will be allowed to buy only two packets. Panic buying started after the rumours spread on WhatsApp stating that the factories in mainland China will stop working, meaning there will be a shortage of toilet paper in Hong Kong.  The posts which started to spread on February 5, were credited to an anonymous inner source from Wellcome, one of the biggest supermarkets in Hong Kong. Wellcome dispelled the rumours the same day, saying that no such worries were needed since the factories in the mainland are still supplying toilet paper regularly.  On the same night, the Hong Kong government has confirmed that there will be no shortage of major supplies such as food products. They also said that there was no need for the public to panic and called the rumour mongers were with "evil intentions." Olivia Cruz is a domestic helper who has worked in City One Shatin for seven years. Carrying two packs (16 rolls) of toilet paper outside Parknshop, she said that her employer told her to buy as much as possible. "My employer is always browsing in social media, that is where he got the news," Ms. Cruz said. The supermarket came up with a policy that each customer can only purchase up to two units of specific supplies. Not only toilet paper, rice, ethyl alcohol, and hand wash are also in the restriction lists.  According to Winnie Ip, a shop assistant in …