Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Leung released from prison
Edward Leung, who coined the now-banned slogan ‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times’, spent four years in jail.Leung was a prominent independence activist and the spokesperson for Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence group in the city that was outspoken about “localism” and the need to preserve a distinct Hong Kong identity.
Hong Kong, China – Collecting sewage samples, mandatory mass-testing and sealing off residential buildings for days on end, Hong Kong is stamping out its worst COVID-19 outbreak by taking a page out of Beijing’s playbook – much to the frustration of its residents.
At Kwai Chung Estate, the site of a growing Omicron outbreak, authorities have placed three blocks under lockdown for five to seven days. On Thursday, the city, which has adopted a strict “zero COVID” policy to align with mainland China, reported a daily record of 164 cases.
Many residents of the public housing estate, particularly those living hand to mouth, are struggling with the mental and financial toll of the latest tightening of measures in the international financial hub.
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Markets mostly rose Thursday in Asia as investors tentatively returned to buying after recent losses, with Chinese property firms enjoying a much-needed lift on fresh easing measures by the country's central bank. Signs that Beijing was on a new monetary easing course also provided some crucial support to the tech giants who have been hammered in recent months as they were caught in the clutches of a wide-ranging, private-sector clampdown. TheSigns that Beijing was on a new monetary easing course also provided some crucial support to the tech giants who have been hammered in recent months as they were caught in the clutches of a wide-ranging, private-sector clampdown.
Wong, a 28-year-old beauty salon worker who lives on the estate, told Al Jazeera she panicked when the government announced the latest restrictions last Friday.
Wong lost her income earlier this month after the Hong Kong government closed businesses including bars, gyms and beauty salons.
The announcement that 2,700 residents of Yat Kwai House would not be able to leave their apartment block left Wong unable to take up part-time waitressing work to make up the lost income. Her father, who works as a driver, has also been left without earnings.
Amid rising cases, authorities on Tuesday extended the lockdown of Wong’s building by another two days till Saturday. The government has not offered any financial support to the residents confined to their homes.
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The 23-year-old performer was seen listening to his forthcoming tracks in both a car and in a recording studio in his video, and he wrote a short message in his post's caption that read: 'y'all dig this ?'The 23-year-old performer was seen listening to his forthcoming tracks in both a car and in a recording studio in his video, and he wrote a short message in his post's caption that read: 'Y'all dig this ?'
The pressure of making ends meet comes on top of fears that they are not safe within their own apartment.
“There is a great fear of cross-infection,” said Wong, who asked not to use her first name, noting that some neighbours who initially tested negative became infected during home quarantine. © Provided by Al Jazeera Hong Kong is one of the few places still pursuing a “zero COVID” policy [File: Peter Parks/AFP]
Residents have complained of poor coordination by the authorities during the lockdowns, which have been implemented for the first time in a city that kept the virus at bay for much of the pandemic with some of the world’s toughest border restrictions.
Without proper triage during the first few days, residents queueing for their mandatory tests flooded the elevators and lobby, increasing the chance of cross-infection within the building.
Some residents who tested positive waited up to 35 hours before they received any treatment or medical attention. Others reported not receiving their government-provided lunchbox and running short on basic supplies. A number of households at Kwai Chung Estate and several other housing estates were evacuated to a hotel or quarantine centre, due to suspected vertical and horizontal transmission.
Australia backs athletes' right to speak out, labels Beijing's threats ‘very concerning'
Sports Minister Richard Colbeck says Australian athletes should be free to express their political opinions at the Winter Olympics next month.Colbeck, who will not be travelling to Beijing in February as part of a diplomatic boycott of the Games by the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada, urged athletes to respect Chinese laws but said the International Olympic Committee guaranteed freedom of speech in its host contract.
For some, the emotional distress was too much to bear. On Thursday morning, a man dangled from the rooftop of one block and attempted to jump, before he was talked down by firefighters.
Lee, a 30-year-old security guard who also lives at Yat Kwai House, told Al Jazeera he feared being forced into quarantine more than catching the disease. He has already lost his attendance bonus for missing his shifts. If the lockdown is extended again, his job will be at risk as well.
“I constantly worry that I will have to be quarantined just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Lee, who urged the government to issue financial support and a notice for residents to show their employers if the measures last beyond a week.
Lee also complained about the unhygienic conditions and buildup of rubbish on every floor. All 40 cleaners that served the housing estate were sent to the government’s quarantine camp after one tested positive and spread the virus to other residents and building staff.
Hong Kong is one of few places that is still maintaining a “zero COVID” stance, even as critics say the policy is increasingly unsustainable. Local experts have predicted the latest wave could last until April or May.
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The story of a Chinese migrant worker whose plight sparked a wave of online sympathy after he tested positive for the coronavirus took another sad twist Friday, as police said his missing son was long dead. The 44-year-old labourer surnamed Yue became one of China's most talked-about topics this week after he was found to be among a handful of new coronavirus cases in Beijing. As part of its zero-Covid strategy, China publishes anonymised details of where coronavirus carriers have been, in a bid to help with contact tracing.
In a leaked draft report, the European Chamber of Commerce in the city warned earlier this week that Hong Kong’s international isolation could extend into 2024, spurring a large exodus of foreign firms and staff.
‘What is the point of zero COVID?’
Taking into consideration the shorter incubation period of Omicron, the Hong Kong government on Thursday announced it would shorten the hotel quarantine period for incoming travellers from 21 days to 14 days, starting next Saturday. Arrivals will be expected to carry out seven days of self-monitoring after quarantine.
Other pandemic controls, including school closures, a 6pm curfew on dining at restaurants and a ban on flights from high-risk countries, will remain in place till at least late February.
Speaking on Thursday – hours after Sophia Chan, the city’s health chief told Bloomberg that Hong Kong had the virus under control – Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned that the situation was still precarious.
“It’s certainly not a situation that would give us the comfort or the assurance that it is under control,” said Lam, citing 30 untraceable cases, the possibility of silent transmission chains and traces of virus in sewage samples tested. “We are expecting that, any time, it could have an exponential increase in cases and it could give rise to a massive community outbreak.”
For Nick Leung, the government’s insistence on elimination makes no sense. The 28-year-old fitness trainer moved his classes outdoors after gyms were forced to close, but his income has still dropped by more than half. During the lockdown, he is losing about HK$1,300 ($167) each day.
“If you look around the world, people are no longer getting tested or vaccinated,” Leung said. “The symptoms are so mild that many don’t have to be hospitalised and will naturally recover. So what is the point of the zero COVID strategy?”
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China Unicom said Friday there were no "justifiable grounds" for a US order that banned the company from operating in the country on national security concerns. On Thursday, the FCC said it had revoked authorisation for China Unicom Americas to operate in the country and ordered it to end domestic interstate and international telecoms services within 60 days. The regulator said the company was "subject to exploitation, influence, and control by the Chinese government" and posed "significant national security and law enforcement risks" by potentially exposing US communications networks to "espionage and other harmful activities".