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Business

Restaurant workers tested for COVID-19 ahead of relaxed restrictions

On the final day of the Chinese New Year, workers from the catering industry headed to community testing centres to get tested for COVID-19. On Feb 10, Sophia Chan Siu-Chee, secretary for Food & Health said in a press conference that restaurants may be allowed to extend their business hours until 10 p.m starting Feb 18 after the Chinese New Year Holidays, if numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to go down.  In addition to extended operating hours, restaurants can allow four people to dine in per table restaurant staff test for covid every 14 days and the establishment must use the LeaveHomeSafe mobile application so customers can keep record of their visit.  All community test centers in Hong Kong have been fully booked on days prior to Feb 18th.  People wait outside Henry G Leong Yau Ma Tei Community Centre to get tested for Covid on the last day of Chinese New Year. “My manager told us all to get tested as soon as possible so we can go to work,” said Monica Rai, 28, waitress. She was at Henry G Leong Yau Ma Tei Community Centre with two other co-workers.   Regarding the LeaveHomeSafe app, MsRai said that her workplace does not enforce it on customers.  “It’s useless,” she said. “Customers walk right past the QR code and managers are also indifferent.”  Restaurants that do not comply with the new regulations will have to shut down for 14 days and the restaurant license owners may be fined a maximum amount of HK$50,000 and face imprisonment for  six months.  

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 …

Business

Lan Kwai Fong bars under Covid-19

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: LIM Jia Qi 林家琦、LI Chen、Lyu Chenyu、GU LinEdited by: Simran Vaswani
  • 2021-02-14

While Hong Kong was on the edge of a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases in November 2020, bars in Lan Kwai Fong violated the gathering restriction in which no more than four persons might be seated together at one table. We went to an underground bar and privately asked them if we could sit together if we had two more friends coming, which made a total of five.

Culture & Leisure

Anti-pandemic measures baffle florists in Lunar New Year Fair

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Cai Chuchu 蔡礎礎、Kwok Chiu Tung 郭昭彤Edited by: Zhu Zijin Cora 朱子槿
  • 2021-02-12

On Lunar New Year's Eve, buyers crowded the Mongkok Flower Market for last-minute shopping while the 15 government-organized festival flower markets were relatively quiet due to anti-pandemic measurements, which curtailed the number of stalls by half, limited visitors and slashed operating hours. The Hong Kong government once decided to stop organizing this year’s Lunar New Year Flower Fair but changed its mind to announce on Jan. 19 that the 15 flower markets would be opened for the festive period of seven days but with crowd-control measures. Many Hong Kong florists who planned to join the Lunar New Year Flower Market had already taken alternative plans including renting pop-up shops and selling online. “We have rented a shop for selling flowers, but the government suddenly changed after two weeks,” said Hung Chun-kit, 31, one of the florists. He said that they were not able to return the deposit to the shop owner and the government measurement made them lose their head. Even though the government exempted the rents for the 2021 Lunar New Year Flower Markets, it would not be enough to compensate florists’ extra costs and reduced sales. “The scale has been downsized with crowd-control measurement, customer flow is fewer than before. It is hard to gain profit even though the Lunar New Year Flower Market was uncharged, ” said Mr Hung. The scale of the fair had been down to 50%, the number of booths is limited. Therefore, florists continued to rent empty shops to sell flowers because these shops have no crowded-control measurements. “The government announcements are messing around our businesses, and this is an erratic situation for our industry,” said Tse Wong Siu-yin, 45, chairperson of Hong Kong Flower Retailers Association. Lam Sze-ching, 72, a florist who won the bid but did not join the fair while …

Business

Hong Kong hotels struggle to stay afloat despite staycation fad

Chui Yuk-hei, a 26-year-old event planner, checked into several luxury hotels in November. She enjoyed her stay at the Mandarin Oriental, the Peninsula Hong Kong and the Four Seasons. “I never tried them before because these top hotels were super expensive,” Ms Chui said, “but now they all offer affordable overnight staycation packages. It’s the best time to enjoy their services.” She spent about HK$9,000 on three hotels in total, less than half the original prices.  More Hong Kongers like Ms Chui are going on staycations, spending holidays in hotels this year. But amid the coronavirus gloom, staycations are not enough to boost revenues, and local hotels still face uncertainties. The fourth wave of Covid-19 infections started in the city in late November 2020. Before that, clusters of cases linked to staycations prompted the government to limit the number of guests in each hotel room to four people only. “Health concerns made many customers cancel their staycation, “ said Benson Soo Koon-chau, 46, manager of four-star One-Eight-One Hotel & Serviced Residences in Sai Wan.      “Staycation is a very up-and-down business,” Mr Soo said. “Many hotels’ staycation business has been largely affected. It’s unlike long-staying service, which people need to pre-pay, no matter whether they eventually check in or not.” One-Eight-One Hotel has increased the portion of long-term leases for customers staying longer than two weeks to earn more stable revenue, he said. “I won’t go on staycation any time soon. It’s not safe. Even before the fourth wave, I would check the health measures at each hotel first,” Ms Chui said.  The pandemic has hit hard on the city’s hospitality industry which already suffered from anti-government protests in 2019. The occupancy rate slumped to 39% in the first six months of 2020 from the previous year’s 90% for …

Society

City's Lunar New Year flower markets head into their last night with smaller crowds and less stock

The city's Lunar New Year flower markets, initially cancelled due to the fourth coronavirus wave, gear up for their final night of the holiday season today after the government U-turn allowing them to open just three weeks ago. Stall owners said they lost out on business because of the government's back and forth decision to cancel and reopen markets again, and crowds this year were much smaller than usual. "As the government announced the closure of the flower markets earlier, we did not purchase much flowers and our supply is not quite enough," said Au Chun-yuen, 29, a stall owner at the Victoria Park market, adding that he had 30% less stock than last year. Mr Au said he has been offering discounts to compensate for the loss of business from shortened market hours. "Selling prices are already reduced by 10% to 20%.  But as my ultimate goal is to sell all the flowers, I am willing to offer an extra discount if the customers bargain with me," Mr Au added.   The decision to open the markets was made after careful consideration and listening to the comments of the flower farmers, Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan Shiu-chee said at a press conference on Jan. 19. The government's virus control measures included closing the market for two hours each day 1:30 pm and 6:30 pm for cleaning and disinfection. Visitors in the market can stay during disinfection sessions, but Mr Au said that opening hours are shortened as people waiting outside the market can only enter after the cleaning sessions end. Chris Jones, 67, a customer at the flower market, questioned the government's decision. "1:30 pm is in the middle of people's lunch break and 6:30 pm is when people want to come here after work, so it is …

Health & Environment

Hong Kong government’s plan to exempt foreign doctors from licensing exams endangers medical safety, local health practitioners say

The government's proposal to exempt foreign-trained doctors from local licensing examinations will jeopardize the health of Hongkongers, the Hong Kong Medical Association said in a press conference today. The government’s proposal is an attempt to alleviate long waiting times in public hospitals. On Feb. 4, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor proposed an amendment to the Medical Registration Ordinance that would allow Hong Kong permanent residents who have graduated from an accredited overseas medical school and worked in a Hong Kong public health institution for at least five years to be exempted from the examination required to become registered doctors in Hong Kong. “The purpose of the Medical Council of Hong Kong's professional qualification examination for doctors is to ensure the quality of doctors,” said Dr David Fang Jin-sheng, the former president of HKMA, which includes more than 8,000 local medical practitioners. Dr Choi Kin, the president of HKMA, said that the examination not only treats all doctors from outside Hong Kong fairly but also ensures that all doctors practicing in Hong Kong meet their standards. Waiting times for specialists in the public system range from two months to nearly three years, according to Hospital Authority statistics. The government's plan to address the shortage of doctors in the public sector was not the right solution to the problem, the HKMA said. To make full use of the existing medical staff, the HKMA said that the government should allocate additional funds for hiring nurses, support staff and additional medical facilities such as hospital beds and operating rooms. With the increasing number of medical students in recent years, there will be about 510 local medical graduates this year, a 13.3% rise from 450 last year, according to HKMA. “Most of the graduates last year went on to work in public hospitals,” said …

Society

Jimmy Lai stays behind bars as top court rules granting of bail was misconstrued

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai will remain in prison custody after the Court of Final Appeal ruled on Tuesday to uphold the government’s challenge to a lower court’s decision to grant him bail. Today’s hearing was a test in determining whether judges can grant bail in cases involving the national security law. Jimmy Lai is facing charges of fraud, breaching the national security law, and colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security. The Court of Final Appeal said today that  High Court judge, Alex Lee had misinterpreted the nature of the threshold requirement under the national security law.  It was referring to a “double negative” clause which states that “No bail unless the judge has sufficient grounds to believe the accused will not commit acts endangering national security before considering the grant of bail”.  While granting bail to Jimmy Lai back in December, judge Alex Lee asked prosecutors to prove that the defendant would pose a further threat to national security in order to deny him bail. But the Court of Final Appeal said today that Judge Lee could have considered whether to grant bail with the intent to prevent Jimmy Lai from endangering national security. “The judge from the High Court applied this erroneous line of reasoning and his approach was clearly inconsistent with the Court’s analysis in this judgment and could not be supported,” today’s judgement stated. Jimmy Lai was granted a HK$10 million bail in late December. He was ordered to remain in his home, and was prohibited from posting on social media or issuing statements. The government filed an appeal against the bail shortly after and Jimmy Lai was put back behind bars a week later. According to the National Security Law Article 42, the accused has to provide reasoning to request bail, unlike in constitutional …

Health & Environment

Covid vaccine advisory panel to consider Sinovac data before peer review

A health expert on the government’s COVID-19 advisory panel denied on Monday that the mainland’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine is being exempted from peer review. Professor David Hui Shu-cheong stressed that the vaccine will not be approved for public use before the data is published in a medical journal.  “We are just trying to have an earlier meeting based on information that they provided to the World Health Organization or to the China National Medical Products Administration so that we can actually have some data to work on,” said Professor Hui, a respiratory medicine expert from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The government announced last Friday that it would consider whether Sinovac should be approved for use in Hong Kong based on Phase 3 clinical data the company submitted to the World Health Organization. Sinovac said earlier that it was having difficulties compiling the relevant information for publication in a short period of time, according to a government press release. Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee denied yesterday that the government was  lowering its standards with the exemption. He explained that the publication process typically takes two to three months, including a lengthy peer review process where the manufacturer has to answer all questions presented by its external referees.  “Eventually they will be able to publish,” Professor Hui said. “But we don’t want to wait for two to three months doing nothing.” The government ordered 7.5 million doses of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine in December 2020. Delivery was expected in January, but was delayed because the advisory panel was awaiting for more clinical information. Sinovac has provided the Department of Health with its Phases 1 and 2 clinical data, based on studies in Brazil and Turkey. The Phase 3 clinical data has been submitted to the World Health …

Society

Clubhouse users cash in on invitation codes in mainland China

The audio-chat social networking app, Clubhouse is offering users in mainland China a taste of free speech. One user, John Lam, stayed up till 3am listening to participants talk about Xinjiang, an often taboo subject on the mainland. “An ethnic minority user in America talked about his family members being arrested in Xinjiang, and participants constantly reminded each other about their personal safety,” Mr. Lam said. Launched last March, Clubhouse drew 5 million users within a month when it streamed The Lion King musical in December last year. After registering with a mobile phone number, users get an ID. But joining a chatroom is by invitation only. Another user has to send you an invitation code via SMS, and each account only gets to invite two others. Clubhouse is free outside the mainland. It is ranked the number one free app at the moment. But in the mainland, users are cashing in on the invitations. On the e-commerce platform, Taobao invitation codes are sold for around 100 yuan each. More than two dozen shops on Taobao are selling the codes, with one store getting nearly 200 sales on average everyday. On Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in the mainland, people bid for cheaper invitation codes. Some are available for around 45 yuan. Clubhouse is offering users outside China a glimpse inside the country. Cici Wang, 20, a mainland student studying in America, learned about the Taiwan earthquake while listening to a discussion in the Cross-Strait Youth chatroom. “It was a rare opportunity for people in the mainland to discuss freely on serious political topics with people from other regions or countries,” said Ms Wang. Nearly 800 people joined the chatroom to listen to young people across the Taiwan Strait share personal experiences, opinions on living conditions, women status and politics. Moderators …