Tag Archives: hong kong

With strict measures, Hong Kong controls a second wave of coronavirus cases

Many countries in Asia are currently dealing with the second wave of coronavirus and a growing number of cases. But not in Hong Kong. Thanks to strict measures and early controls, authorities in the city haven’t reported a single case for the first time in more than six weeks.

Credit Flickr

Hong Kong detected its first COVID-19 case on January 23 and suffered a spike in March when residents, many of them students, returned from high-risk areas such as Europe and North America. The number of cases actually tripled in a short period of time.

But the daily number of new cases has dwindled significantly since then and has remained in the single digits, all thanks to more strict measures. On Monday, the city saw no new infections at all. Hong Kong has recorded a total of 1,025 coronavirus cases so far, with four fatalities.

Gabriel Leung, the dean of medicine at Hong Kong University, told Fortune that the city is “the gold standard of infection control” and linked its success to early screening measures at ports, a robust health care system with sufficient isolation wards, extended school closures, and a society-wide adoption of face masks.

Arrivals from foreign countries were required to wear tracking bracelets and undergo two weeks quarantine upon arrival. As case numbers continued to climb, Hong Kong barred entry to all non-residents except those from Macau, Taiwan, and mainland China, and required all remaining arrivals to submit to mandatory testing.

Within Hong Kong, restrictions on movement also increased. During the last week of March, the government ordered all cinemas, theaters, arcades, and other entertainment venues to close. In the following weeks, bars, karaoke clubs, gyms, spas, and virtually all other service providers were shut down.

Police wielding measuring tapes have brought charges against dozens of rule-breaking eateries while 130 members of the public have been fined for breaking a rule that prohibits gathering in groups of more than four people. Quarantine breakers are facing stiff punishment, too: one man was sentenced to four weeks in prison.

While the second wave appears to have subsided, the Hong Kong government has decided against easing the restrictions that helped mitigate the infection’s spread. On Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the social distancing rules, many of which were due to end this week, will be extended for another two weeks.

A spokesperson for the Centre for Health Protection urged the public to remain vigilant: “Given that the situation of Covid-19 infection remains severe and that there is a continuous increase in the number of cases reported around the world, members of the public are strongly urged to avoid all non-essential travel outside Hong Kong.”

The situation in Hong Kong is very different from those in Singapore and Japan. Both countries had been praised for their initial efforts but then saw a spike in the number of cases. In Singapore, the surge was linked to the government overlooking the living conditions of foreign workers, while Japan deals with a collapse of its health system.

Lockdown spurs pandas to finally mate after a decade

One of the serious problems that pandas have is that they rarely mate. But quarantine and isolation, which has millions of people longing for physical contact again, seems to have had an effect on them, proving love can arise in times of a pandemic.

Credit Ocean Park

Ying Ying and Le Le are two giant pandas from Hong Kong’s Ocean Park. Zoo employees have been trying to make them mate for a decade, as the species is in danger of extinction, to no avail. But it seems that all they needed was a little privacy, which the lack of visitors to the zoo due to the coronavirus outbreak has helped secure.

Even in captivity, breeding pandas is notoriously difficult. They are extremely selective about choosing their mates, which means that even if a male and female panda are kept in the same enclosure for years, there is no guarantee the pair will mate.

“Ying Ying and Le Le arrived in Hong Kong in 2007 and there have been attempts at natural mating since 2010. Nevertheless, they have not been successful until this year, after a long time of testing and learning,” said Michael Boos, CEO of operation and zoological conservation.

In late March, after more than a month of unusual privacy, Ying Ying began spending more time in the water. Meanwhile, Le Le began leaving a trail of scents around his habitat, actively searching for his companion’s smell all the while. On Monday the two were seen cuddling.

The Ocean Park has not received visitors since January because of the pandemic, and these moments of intimacy coincided with the breeding season that occurs every year between March and May. Female pandas enter heat for one to three days, and that’s the only window in which the male panda can act.

“The successful natural mating process today is extremely exciting for all of us, as the chance of pregnancy via natural mating is higher than by artificial insemination,” Boos said. “We hope to bear wonderful pregnancy news to Hong Kongers this year and make further contributions to the conservation of this vulnerable species.”

The fact that they have mated does not mean that Ying Ying is going to get pregnant, but if so, they would begin to notice changes at a hormonal and behavioral level in early June. For now, we will have to wait to see if this pandemic has had its positive side for these giant pandas.

The number of pandas is slowly increasing around the world. In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) removed giant pandas from the “endangered” category due to a 17% increase in the number of pandas between 2004 and 2014.

Nevertheless, they still face many challenges. Deforestation has led to permanent habitat loss in some areas. Wild pandas used to live in bamboo forests in China, Vietnam, Laos and Burma. Today, wild pandas are found only in China, and in far fewer numbers than ever before.

It’s not just a health problem. Coronavirus shows environmental effects

Face masks, a tool for protection against coronavirus now in high-demand across the globe, have become an environmental problem in Hong Kong, where 131 people have been infected with the virus and three people have been reported dead.

Aerial of the research beach at the Soko Islands. Credit Oceans Asia

Environmental groups claim a large number of face masks are not being properly disposed of in Hong Kong. Instead, they are thrown onto the shoreline, beaches or even into the sea, where marine life can mistake them for food.

Already dealing with the growing flow of marine litter from mainland China and elsewhere, local environmentalists said these discarded masks have exacerbated the problem and have also raised concerns about the spread of germs.

“We have only had masks for the last six to eight weeks, in a massive volume. Now we are seeing the effect on the environment,” Gary Stokes, founder of the environmental group Oceans Asia, told Reuters.

Stroke’s organization discovered thousands of used face masks on the beaches of various small uninhabited islands of the Soko archipelago (between Hong Kong and Lantau), in all probability used in recent months due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The scale of the phenomenon expanded as time passed. Stokes said he found 70 discarded masks on a 100-meter stretch of beach, and when he returned a week later, there were more than 30 new ones.

Oceans Asia participates in the WWF Blue Oceans Initiative, periodically visiting various points on the Asian coasts to quantify the presence of waste, with special attention to plastics. The masks were found floating in the water and mixed with other debris on the beaches.

The masks and protective equipment found by Stokes include hospital and private use models, but almost all of them share the condition of being made of non-degradable materials, therefore increasing concern about their environmental impact.

“Due to the current coronavirus outbreak, the general population has taken the precaution of wearing surgical masks and if you suddenly have a population of seven million people with one or two masks per day, the amount of garbage generated is impressive,” said Strokes in a statement.

Detecting these contamination points in the vicinity of Hong Kong is most likely an indicator of a much larger scale problem. There are no verified data in this regard, but the appearance of many other points of accumulation of this type of waste in areas affected by the pandemic is not ruled out by Oceans Asia.

With over seven million inhabitants, Hong Kong has had difficulties dealing with plastic waste, especially since 2017, when China implemented a waste ban. Hong Kong used to export 90% of its recyclables to China so not being able to do that was a big blow. Now, about 70% of Hong Kong’s waste ends up in landfills.