Friday, 31 January 2020

Hong Kong Government Further Infuriates Citizens

Carrie Lam and her administration file in for this afternoon's press conference
Hongkongers are fed up with their government. Today's press conference infuriated the people even more.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had a late afternoon press conference flanked by several ministers, including Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah.

WHO chief declares coronavirus a global health emergency
But Lam had nothing to say about closing all border points between Hong Kong and the mainland, and instead replied the government was following World Health Organization recommendations. Meanwhile we all know the WHO was under a lot of pressure from China not to declare the Wuhan coronavirus a global health emergency, but since the mystery virus has spread to 18 countries, it technically fits the bill.

However what was even more infuriating was the government's lack of compassion for Hongkongers desperately trying to buy masks, and the Lam administration had absolutely no plans in place to resolve the situation quickly and in an orderly manner.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Yau just replied that the government was talking to various stakeholders and some companies wanted to donate supplies to hospitals and charities... that's all good and well, but what about the rest of us? When can the government secure an ongoing supply of masks at decent prices for us to afford?

Lam seemed to hint that since school and universities would be shut now until March 2 that fewer people would be needing masks. This is absolutely ludicrous. So everyone's going to stay at home... and do what? If she thinks kids are going to stay home and study all day she's got to be from Mars.

Hongkongers continue their desperate search for masks
Meanwhile today was one of my colleague's last day at work and she had planned to travel to Rome with her mother before starting her new job. But this evening, the Italian authorities announced they were canceling all flights from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taipei to Italy (basically Rome and Milan), effective immediately.

People who were supposed to get on a Cathay Pacific flight after midnight tonight, I'm sorry to say their flight is cancelled. Talk about last-minute cancellation.

Despite Italy desperate for business from mostly mainland Chinese tourists, the government has decided to be safe than sorry in protecting its citizens potentially exposed to the Wuhan coronavirus. That said, there may be some mainlanders already there, but now stranded in Italy... how are they getting home now that the Chinese New Year holiday is over?

It's upsetting that Hong Kong is being lumped in with China, but not surprising at the same time. Are other countries going to follow suit? So far Russia has closed its border with China, and Singapore will refuse to admit any Chinese nationals into the Lion City.

Meanwhile our spineless leader is adamant about keeping most of the border points open between Hong Kong and China. Was she instructed to do this, or she assumes this is what Beijing wants her to do?

Some 15,000 healthcare workers are threatening to strike
So many professional groups are clamouring for Lam to shut the border, and tens of thousands of medical staff are threatening to strike if this demand is not met. These doctors and nurses feel the healthcare system in Hong Kong is stretched as it is, and keeping the border open is inviting an outbreak too happen here.

Lam's response? She said she was dismayed to hear these frontline medical workers want to strike, but that it was the patients who suffered the most, as well as the city of Hong Kong, and that they should think clearly about what they are doing.

Again no empathy nor interest in trying to help the medical sector tackle the Wuhan coronavirus as effectively as possible.

We may have a strike any day now and everyone will know why patients are suffering -- because our government has lost its integrity

So basically don't get sick in the next few days and stay at home. There aren't any places to go to anyway since the public swimming pools, libraries, concert halls are shut. That'll save you from having to wear a few masks...                                                                                                                            

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Desperation for and Misinformation of Masks Continues

Practically everyone is wearing a mask in Hong Kong these days
Again this morning in Mongkok I saw a very long line for masks... it was shocking to see. Would those people at the end of the line get a hold of some masks? I read one news report that said people waited seven hours to buy one box of 50 masks.

It is outrageous that the Hong Kong government has not stockpiled on masks -- did they not learn anything from SARS in 2003? And the city is a top logistics hub. How can it be possible we cannot get access to masks from around the world?

Massive lines for face masks, but not enough supply
There are currently just under 8,000 confirmed cases worldwide, 170 deaths in China and now Hong Kong has its 11th confirmed case -- the daughter of the couple that stayed in the W Hotel, The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong and was in the Four Seasons Hong Kong before being sent to hospital...

And with masks hard to find -- and cases of unscrupulous people selling used masks as clean ones -- Hongkongers are even more worried.

Earlier today pro-Beijing legislator Ann Chiang Lai-wan posted a 10-minute video on Facebook instructing viewers on how to sanitize masks by steaming them so they could be used again.

Democrat Roy Kwong Chun-yu called out Chiang, revealing she had told members of the Legislative Council's health services panel that she was wearing a mask she had steamed.

A health official chides Chiang for steaming her mask
Later in a Legco meeting, Chiang asked Wong Ka-hing, the Controller for the Centre For Health Protection if face masks could be sterilized at home and then reused.

He replied curtly, "It doesn't work according to my understanding," and Chiang had the gall to say that he should check that again, insisting she was correct.

She even wrote on her Facebook page later that she believed masks could be steamed as a last resort.

But medical sector lawmaker and doctor Pierre Chan said this was simply a "horrible" idea and appealed to people not to do this. "Very bad. It's common sense. It will destroy the structure of that surgical mask. It's very simple. It's one-use only and please, do that."

So we ask to the Hong Kong government again -- where are those masks we need to use everyday?

Chiang tells people to steam masks to reuse again -- NOT!
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told the media today that 32 million masks were on their way to Hong Kong. But when will they arrive?

He added the government's overseas economic and trade offices had secured an additional 5 million masks to be sent to Hong Kong. But they seem to be only for government use, as the Government Logistics Department, that distributes supplies to law enforcement and social welfare agencies, was down to its last month of supplies, he said.

Oh and it was also revealed that prisoners in Hong Kong make about 45,000 masks a day and that would be stepped up to 70,000 a day -- again for government use.

As Dr Ho Pak-leung an infectious diseases expert at the University of Hong Kong has said, at least 6 million masks are used per day in the city. So what about having enough masks for March? April? May?

Today I visited a few shops like Watson's, Mannings and my local pharmacy and they all had signs at the entrance saying they were all out of masks, hand sanitizers, alcohol rubs.

It's very depressing and hard to know when the end in sight is. But what makes it worse is ordinary Hongkongers not being able to get a hold of the basic protection they need and the government hardly doing enough to help them.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Panic Buying Settles In

Carrie Lam was berated yesterday for not wearing her mask properly
Hongkongers are pretty much united now in their ire at the Hong Kong government for not ensuring enough supplies for masks and sanitizing products in the wake of the Wuhan coronavirus that's spreading around the world.

There are now over 6,100 confirmed cases, 6,000 of which are in China, where 132 people have died. Hong Kong has eight confirmed cases, and three new ones today that need additional testing. Two of the cases are a couple in their early 70s who apparently spent a couple of days in the Four Seasons Hong Kong!

This morning a long line at the a pharmacy in Kennedy Town
It's a massive step up from 17 years ago when the Chinese doctor who began the spreading of SARS here stayed at the Metropark Hotel Kowloon...

In any event, this morning on my way to work I saw a long line in front of the neighbourhood pharmacy, as people were waiting for it to open to buy masks. Wonder if they managed to get any. Some shops gouged customers, raising prices several times the regular price, or they still didn't have any new stock.

Not only were masks and hand sanitizers in high demand, but people also raided supermarkets for fear of being stuck at home and not having enough to eat. At Heng Fa Chuen,  the ParknShop there ran out of vegetables at 2pm, while the shelves of sacks of rice in Yuen Long were completely empty.

In the ParknShop in Kennedy Town, loaves of bread were gone, and strangely enough flu medicine was not to be found.

"I am not that worried," said Cheng, a businessman in his 50s, who was buying canned food in Heng Fa Chuen. "But I can understand why many are panicking and stocking up on food. Their actions show they have lost confident in the government. As the government is not helping us, we have to do what we can to feel assured."

Many supermarkets ran out of food, especially vegetables
Cheng hit the nail on the head.

People feel desperate when the Hong Kong government claimed it had enough stock for masks and yet they cannot find any, and unlike Macau where the authorities there demanded that shops selling masks can only sell them at a low price and allotted a certain number of boxes per person, no such system is in place in Hong Kong.

University of Hong Kong microbiologist Dr Ho Pak-leung has estimated the city would use about 300 million surgical masks per month during the outbreak of the coronavirus.

"For a person who needs to go outside... they will use up to three disposable masks," Ho said. "If 1 million belong to this category, that's 3 million masks per day, 90 million per month. He also said health care workers in public hospitals used as many as 300,000 masks daily at the peak of the 2003 SARS epidemic.

At just before 8pm, Central MTR station was eerily quiet
So far the coronavirus doesn't seem as deadly as SARS, but seems more contagious than SARS, as people don't have any symptoms when they are infected with the coronavirus. 

Nevertheless, Lam and her administration must be accountable to the people in fulfilling her promise that there are enough masks for the city... or did she just mean for herself?

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Hong Kong Finally Takes Action

Carrie Lam and her senior ministers briefed the media on the latest measures
Things are (finally) getting serious in Hong Kong with regards to the Wuhan coronavirus that has now claimed 106 lives and over 4,680 cases worldwide. There were 1,200 new cases in Wuhan alone today. Hong Kong has eight confirmed cases.

Railway services will be cut, while flights will be halved
Today the Hong Kong government has instructed civil servants who aren't frontline service staff that they can work from home until at least February 10; some companies are following suit. In many cases, these employees don't have company laptops or access to the special computer systems they need to use, which means they will have an extended holiday.

Late this afternoon Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor held a press conference with senior members of her cabinet and announced travel to and from the mainland would be drastically cut, with flights reduced by half, all ferry services suspended, and trains from West Kowloon and the through train to Guangzhou from Hung Hom would be stopped.

While tour groups to Hong Kong have already been suspended, no more individual visas to the city will be issued.

This high-speed train will stop service from Thursday
It's not a complete closure of all border checkpoints (only about 9 percent), but it is finally a start for Lam to act on the advice of the infectious disease experts and legislators from the entire political spectrum who are urging her to do the right thing for the safety of Hongkongers.

However, she really needs to do more to combat against fake news, and spent the first part of her press conference berating people for spreading rumours.

She really needs to be more transparent, which means speaking more frequently and clearly. At the very least Lam or her ministers should update the media once a day, twice would be better... or is she too busy to consider doing that?

The more you communicate, the more your message comes across.

Newly refurbished Museum of Art will be shut temporarily
Or maybe because the government keeps flip flopping that the Lam administration is unclear on its own position?

In addition the government will not use the newly-completed housing estate in Fanling for quarantine purposes... perhaps a decision made too late. Some people in the media have thrown out the idea of using Disneyland as a quarantine area. It's isolated, self sufficient and hey, it's cheerful too. Why not?

Just saw news that the Hong Kong-Macau ferries will be suspended from Thursday, while all Hong Kong libraries, museums, sports centres and swimming pools will be closed until further notice.

Meanwhile in China, Dr Zhong Nanshan who discovered SARS over 17 years ago believes the current coronavirus will peak in a week to 10 days, which is much earlier than what Dr Gabriel Leung at the University of Hong Kong had predicted, which was April or May.

Dr Zhong Nanshan predicts the coronavirus peaking very soon
Who is right? We will find out soon enough.

Cryptically, Lam said in the press conference: "If you asked me a week ago, I might not have the determination to roll out the measures we rolled out today and yesterday."

Does that mean she didn't think she had to take the Wuhan coronavirus that seriously?

Where was she in 2003?

Monday, 27 January 2020

Shocking Estimates of Wuhan Coronavirus

Gabriel Leung (left) says there could be as many as 44,000 cases in Wuhan
Today is the third year of Lunar New Year, and in Chinese superstition, you're not supposed to go outside for fear of starting up arguments that could result in bad luck and ruin the rest of the year.

And it would be pretty justified to stay in considering the mounting fears of the Wuhan coronavirus spreading faster and further than currently reported.

This afternoon infectious disease experts from the University of Hong Kong estimate that the number of patients in Wuhan had reached 43,590 by Saturday, including those in the incubation stage of the virus, which causes pneumonia.

The Wuhan market that maybe ground zero for the coronavirus
So far the number of reported cases in the country is 2,880 as of Monday, and 81 dead. That's a huge discrepancy, but lead researcher and dean of HKU's faculty of medicine Gabriel Leung said his team estimated there were 25,630 patients showing symptoms in Wuhan, and that the number would double in 6.2 days. This is according to mathematical modelling based on infection figures worldwide as of Saturday.

The big issue is that unlike SARS, the Wuhan coronavirus is difficult to detect because it is infectious during the incubation period, and that those who are infected may not show any symptoms like elevated temperatures.

If there are 44,000 cases in Wuhan alone, how many could there be nationwide and worldwide? 

Leung and his team's research showed self-sustaining human-to-human transmission was already happening in all major mainland cities and warned a pandemic might be close. 

The Forbidden City in Beijing is closed indefinitely
"We have to be prepared, that this particular epidemic may be about to become a global epidemic," he said.

The team's model predicted the number of infections in five mainland megacities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chongqing, would peak between late April and early May. At that time, as many as 150,000 new cases could be confirmed everyday in Chongqing because of its large population and the intense travel volume with Wuhan.

Leung said the estimates could be too pessimistic,  as it only took into account the lockdown in Wuhan and not travel and health advisories in other cities and provinces, but in the meantime he is advising the Hong Kong government to take more severe measures to stop the virus from coming into the city and spreading.

"So, the question is not whether or not to do more... Yes, we must do more. The question really is, how can we make sure that is feasible, implementable and enforceable," he said, adding the government's task now was to study practical plans, like the logistics of importing food and supplies.

Premier Li Keqiang visited medical staff, patients in Wuhan
Meanwhile I am hearing from relatives and friends who are currently vacationing abroad that they cannot find masks in pharmacies -- they are sold out in places like London and Taipei. While the Hong Kong government claims it has enough masks, locals have trouble finding them, or are in shock as the inflated prices.

Maybe shops will have supplies by Wednesday when business is supposedly back to normal after Chinese New Year?

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Fear Marks the Year of the Rat

Practically everyone using public transport wears a mask for prevention
It's the second day of the Year of the Rat and everyone in Hong Kong is obsessed about the Wuhan coronavirus. No one seems to care or notice that there are no fireworks or the Chinese New Year Parade was nixed, but are constantly checking their phones for updates on any new cases.

Restaurants should have been doing a brisk business today with family gatherings, but some cancelled in case they felt unwell, or were worried about being in public areas. I had made a late lunch reservation for dim sum for 1pm weeks ago and the restaurant warned me that we may have to wait, but instead we were seated to our table -- earlier than the appointed time.

Screenings have stepped up, but is it enough?
Practically everyone is wearing masks on the streets, over 90 percent on the MTR and buses. The reminder to step up hygiene is a good one, though I feel for the cleaning staff who need to put in the extra effort to make sure things are clean more frequently.

As of 11.15pm, Hong Kong has eight cases, all of them related to Wuhan. Local medical experts are pushing the government to limit the city's exposure to people from Wuhan and China, but the authorities say closing off borders completely is impossible.

"If we still only focus on cutting ties with Wuhan, our prevention work is doomed to fail. The largest threats to Hong Kong are from [neighbouring] Guangdong province and Shenzhen," said Dr Arisina Ma Chung-yee, president of the Hong Kong Public Doctors' Association on a radio program forum.

She called on the government to launch crowd control measures, like reducing the frequency of trains and buses across the border and forcing travelers from Wuhan to undergo mandatory monitoring for 14 days. And a few minutes ago, Hong Kong has just announced it is barring anyone coming from Hubei province in the past 14 days to enter the city except for Hong Kong residents.

Protesters set up roadblocks in Fanling this evening
Earlier, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said closing the border was completely impractical.

"[The government] would definitely consider stepping up border control measures, but [we would also have to look into] which option would be the best at a certain time," Chan said during a television program.

Err... how about now? To keep things under control reducing as much contact from the mainland is the easiest way to contain the number of cases in Hong Kong.

People are terrified of a repeat of SARS in 2003.

Speaking of which, residents in Fanling violently protested when they found out a public housing estate in the area that is nearly completed could potentially will be used to quarantine patients. Clad in black, the protesters smashed what looked like tiles and glass on the roads and set fire to the entrance to the housing estate. They also damaged traffic lights.

The lobby of a newly built housing estate in Fanling set on fire
Police descended on the area and detained some protesters and journalists. The fear and mistrust in the government is real and intense, built up in particular over the last eight months.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her administration probably weren't anticipating this reaction at all, as she and her cohorts are living in a parallel universe. How are they going to overcome people's fear and mistrust? Oh wait it's too late -- she lost her chance at good will ages ago and these last few days.

And Beijing still has faith in her?

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Lam Defends Government (In)actions

Lam is back and now leading the effort to stop the coronavirus from spreading
Finally Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is back in Hong Kong, and finally some action is being taken to try to stop the Wuhan coronavirus from spreading in the city.

Hours after landing from Davos, Switzerland, Lam held a 90-minute press conference where she announced primary and secondary schools will be closed until February 17 and it seems universities are following suit, all travelers who are not Hong Kong residents must fill out health forms, and everyone should wear masks. Currently Hong Kong has five confirmed cases, and worldwide there are over 1,400 cases, and 41 deaths.

Upcoming Standard Chartered Marathon has been scrapped
She insisted that her administration was not waiting for her to get back. "Even when I was in Davos I never stopped liaising with Secretary for Health Sophia Chan and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung."

Then how come they didn't see it necessary for all travelers on the high speed rail to West Kowloon didn't have to fill out health declaration forms and why was the second infected patient in Hong Kong allowed to leave for Manila? Yesterday the Philippine government said it was flying back all Chinese nationals in a bid to lessen the number of coronavirus cases there.

In addition the Standard Chartered Marathon that was supposed to be held February 9 is cancelled, which makes people like me half relieved, but also half shrugging. I could have done the race, as I have been training for it. But I will continue training anyway.

Lam said the new package of measures was introduced because the situation had reached a "critical point", two days after the city's first confirmed case.

A lot of people are wearing masks in public spaces
But surely she must remember from 2003 that these cases can spread very fast? The government needed to be more aggressive in the first few days, not dither.

However, health experts had called on the government to immediately shut down the border with the mainland, but Lam refused, saying it was "inappropriate and impractical" to shut down all ports linked to the mainland.

What does she mean by "inappropriate"? This is about life and death for some people who have been infected by this virulent strain. Does she mean the flow of food coming from the mainland? She needs to explain for people to understand instead of just saying it's "inappropriate".

A labour union representing medical staff said public doctors had threatened to strike if the government refused to shut the border.

"Maybe we have become used to more radical moves in the past few months, but I hope medical staff will not resort to a confrontational approach to fight for their cause," Lam said.

Yuen Kwok-yung (right) says the coronavirus is contagious
These doctors would not threaten such drastic action if they felt they could handle the caseloads. They are genuinely terrified of what could happen if not enough is done to prevent more cases from coming into Hong Kong and spreading.

As for the shortage of masks, Lam said she had written to the State Council for cooperation. Why are we asking the mainland for masks. Shouldn't we be buying supplies from elsewhere? I have relatives who are terrified that the mainland would sell recycled masks. That shows how much confidence they have in Chinese-made products...

Microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung from the University of Hong Kong believes this coronavirus is highly contagious.

"Hong Kong or Macau or other world cities could easily become another Wuhan or another 2003 Hong Kong," Yuen said in an online message, referring to the SARS outbreak in 2003 that killed 299 people, including eight medical staff.

Most people on the streets are wearing masks as a precaution. Strangely those non-Chinese who cough, don't...

Friday, 24 January 2020

Challenging Year of the Rat Ahead

Medical staff in Wuhan in protective gear... that they are running out of
Again the Hong Kong government is being caught flat footed in dealing with the Wuhan coronavirus that is baffling health experts because many of the first few people who died did not have elevated temperatures.

While many cities in China have gone into lock down in a bid to slow the spread of the virulent virus, Shanghai Disneyland is closed, cinemas shut, and temple fairs have been cancelled. Even Macau has made some prudent decisions, including the possibility of shutting down casinos, and keeping schools shut an extra two weeks.

Carrie Lam seems more interested in wooing elites in Davos
This would have been an excellent opportunity for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to show some leadership, but instead she's been busy in Davos, Switzerland, serving dim sum to world political and business leaders to tell them Hong Kong is open for business.

Local media are questioning whether Lam should be hobnobbing with business and political elites when people back home are panicking because they can't get a hold of any masks, and if they do the price is several times what they are usually sold at.

There are no definitive decisions being made by the government. It is only when the public and media complain are the authorities pressured to do something... or wait. But in a medical crisis like this, time is of the essence.

Hongkongers desperate to buy masks, a repeat of 2003
Did the Hong Kong government not learn anything from when SARS hit Hong Kong in 2003?

Borders need to be shut down, not allowing cars to go on the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhu Hai bridge free of charge for a week, and making everyone traveling into the city write down their contact details, while setting aside more than just holiday campsites for quarantine.

How about shutting down Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park? Lam and her administration seem to have no idea what to do.

The timing of this coronavirus is particularly bad now with Chinese New Year and millions of people in China are traveling around the country.

Shanghai Disneyland is shut... what about Hong Kong's?
Meanwhile it is painful to hear the stories coming out of Wuhan. Medical staff are desperate for fresh supplies of gowns, masks, and eyewear to protect themselves. There's video footage going viral of a medical personnel breaking down in hysterics in the staff room as others try to relax on their break.

There are stories of people in Wuhan trying to get into hospitals because they know they are ill and yet they are not being admitted and forced to go back home because it's already crowded. This is not a good way of managing the crisis either.

Lam will definitely face a barrage of questions from the media when she gets back, and also how will President Xi Jinping quell people's anger and frustration at the spread of this coronavirus?

The latest news is that 40 medical personnel from the People's Liberation Army have been dispatched to Wuhan tonight and more to follow. Hopefully they are bringing in more supplies too.

Wuhan is building a makeshift hospital in six days
But perhaps even more crazier is that Wuhan is trying to build a makeshift hospital in six days to house 1,000 patients. However, this is exactly what was done 17 years ago outside of Beijing for the PLA to treat almost 15 percent of SARS patients in China for two months.

We have now started the Year of the Rat with a coronavirus that has at least 918 cases worldwide and 26 deaths. Not exactly a good start, but we can only hope things can get better?

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Hong Kong's Inept Leadership on Coronavirus

About half of people I saw today wore masks as a precaution in public areas
After last night's news of Hong Kong having two confirmed cases of patients testing positive with the coronavirus, this morning many people wore surgical masks in public. Some of my colleagues wore masks because they were coughing, or others wore the protective gear to prevent themselves from catching anything.

Not having been here in 2003, I was reticent about what to do -- was it that serious? But it seems like it is better to err on the side of caution these days. You never know if the person next to you isn't feeling well.

Why can the MTR be stopped and not the high speed rail?
However, the supply of masks has run out in many pharmacies in Hong Kong, making people panic even more.

But in a way they have a right to worry as the Hong Kong government seems to take a laissez-faire attitude towards the coronavirus that originated from an animal market in Wuhan, in Hubei province.

Even health experts are chastising the government for acting so slowly in trying to contain or prevent cases from coming into the city.

"There is so much more the Hong Kong government can do. They have done so little so far," said Dr. Arisina Ma Chung-yee, president of the Hong Kong Public Doctors' Association. "The checks at the border are insufficient."

Dr Ho Pak-leung says the government needs to do more
Previously there was no need for passengers traveling on the high speed rail to the West Kowloon terminus to fill out a health card which is outrageous. It turns out many of the suspected and confirmed cases were of passengers who took this mode of transport to Hong Kong. If they don't fill out health cards with contact details, how can the authorities track them down as soon as possible?

And with the first suspected case in Hong Kong, why did the authorities allow them to leave Hong Kong and go to Manila to possibly infect another country? It boggles the mind.

Ma also urged the government to consider giving away free masks in public facilities like libraries, to prevent the spread of germs.

Dr Ho Pak-leung from the University of Hong Kong said the government was now doing worse than in 2003, when the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) killed 299 people in the city. At the time everyone entering Hong Kong had to fill out a health form.

"Hong Kong needs to wake up. We all need to wake up. The situation right now is very severe," he said.

People want to travel home for Chinese New Year
Ho added the government should issue the black travel alert to Wuhan, meaning everyone should avoid going there; at present there is only a black alert for Syria.

He also said doctors had claimed many sick mainlanders were trying to come to Hong Kong to seek medical treatment, and this showed the need to step up border controls.

But perhaps the government is caught flat-footed because our fearless leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is not here but in Davos trying to sell Hong Kong, when she should be delegating more power to her ministers to do everything possible to minimize the coronavirus from spreading in the city. But it seems our city is being run top-down, and since our chief executive isn't here, her ministers don't seem to know what to do.

Political scientist and commentator Simon Shen Xu Hui points out that the MTR can be shut down at anytime because of the protests, but nothing has been done to shut down the high speed rail to prevent the coronavirus from coming into Hong Kong.

A suspected case in Central startles people in the area
But perhaps even worse is mainlanders in China are unaware or not given enough information about the seriousness of the Wuhan coronavirus. For example on tonight's news on CCTV, President Xi Jinping's speech at a Spring Festival banquet was the top story, followed by New Year cultural activities around the country, a happy report on people at Beijing West train station traveling home, and a story on how the rehearsals are going for the CCTV Spring Festival Gala. The Wuhan coronavirus was the fifth news item.

No wonder people are trying to get into Hong Kong to find out what's really going on.

This outbreak is really bad timing -- with Chinese New Year days away, how do you prevent masses of people from congregating or traveling around?

After dinner I took a stroll along the waterfront and one woman was running with a mask on which seemed like overkill. How was she able to breathe? In any event, it looks like wearing masks in public will be de rigeur in the next few weeks at least...

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Hong Kong's First Coronavirus Cases

A second patient with the coronavirus is moved to Princess Margaret Hospital

As I said two days ago, it was only a matter of time before Hong Kong had confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus and today two were reported, heightening people's fears in the city -- is this SARS 2.0?

In late afternoon, a mainland tourist from Wuhan was found to have a fever when he arrived at the West Kowloon high speed rail terminus, though the four family members traveling with him did not show any symptoms. There was a race to stop him from flying to Manila.

Sophia Chan says holiday campsites are ready for outbreaks
He had taken the high-speed rail from Wuhan to Shenzhen North, and from there to West Kowloon. The family stayed at the Empire Hotel Kowloon in Tsim Sha Tsui. The patient is now quarantined at Princess Margaret Hospital, where the Hospital Authority Infectious Disease Centre is located.

Hours later the second case was reported, a man who had visited Wuhan and is now also isolated at the same hospital. The initial test came back positive and the second test is pending.

So far Hong Kong health officials are not advising everyone in the city to wear face masks, though the mayor of Wuhan has made this mandatory.

Cathay Pacific attendants can now wear masks for all flights
Cathay Pacific flight attendants working on flights to the mainland were allowed to wear masks, and the staff had to fight with management to be able to wear masks on all flights, because really, with cases reported outside of China, there is a strong possibility of becoming infected, especially in a confined space like an airplane.

In the meantime yesterday Secretary for Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee has said two public holiday campsites, Lady MacLehose Holiday Village and Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village that are managed by the government will be used to quarantine people in case of a local outbreak.

"Once we have confirmed a case in Hong Kong,  the Centre of Health Protection will first of all identify their close contacts and put them under medical surveillance," she said. "All those close contacts will be isolated in the holiday camps."

When the camps admit patients, two nurses and a doctor will be on hand to monitor them.

Macau also announced its first case of a middle-aged woman from Wuhan falling ill from the coronavirus on Wednesday. She was not detected with flu symptoms until after a week after she arrived in the former Portuguese enclave. The two friends she was with have been quarantined and put under medical surveillance.

The spread of the Wuhan coronavirus on a map by Bloomberg
So how do you protect yourself?

Medical experts say there is no need to panic, but if you want to take precautions then when in public wear a mask -- the three-ply surgical masks to completely cover your nose and mouth. Also wash your hands regularly with soap and water for about 20 seconds. If soap is not available then use an anti-bacterial or alcohol rub also for about 20 seconds.

If you feel feverish, quarantine yourself at home and don't come to work. If it gets serious, contact your doctor and if you have traveled to China recently do tell him or her on the phone so that they can be prepared beforehand.

Hopefully with more knowledge and trying to contain cases as soon as possible, we won't have a tragic repeat of SARS in 2003 when there were 1,755 cases and 17 people died.

At least Wuhan is doing its bit with the mayor insisting everyone wear a mask and not to travel in or out of the city. Some people there have had to cancel their plans to travel during the Spring Festival.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government needs to seriously rethink the existence of these live animal markets -- are they really necessary and should people be eating such exotic animals?

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Lam on Charm Offensive in Davos

Can Carrie Lam persuade world leaders Hong Kong is open for business?
Hong Kong's fearless leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is in Davos, Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum in the hopes of persuading leading political and financial figures that our city is still open for business.

Her visit coincides with a report by Moody's Investors Service that has downgraded Hong Kong's rating by one notch to Aa3 from Aa2. In September, Fitch Ratings cut Hong Kong's sovereign rating  to AA from AA+.

"Team HK" is in Davos for the World Economic Forum
Moody's says the downgrading is due to concerns the government has not been able to quell the political and economic issues from eight months of protests.

"The downgrade principally reflects Moody's view that Hong Kong's institutions and governance strength is lower than previously estimated," said Marie Diron, managing director of Moody's sovereign risk group, and Martin Petch, vice-president and senior credit officer of sovereign risk group, said in a statement on Monday night.

"The absence of tangible plans to address either the political or economic and social concerns of the Hong Kong population that have come to the fore in the past nine months may reflect weaker inherent institutional capacity than Moody's had previously assessed," the New York-based credit rating agency said.

Protests are still happening, one of the latest in Landmark
It described the government's response to demands for greater political freedoms and expensive living costs as "notably slow, tentative and inconclusive".

"It may also point to more significant constraints on the autonomy of Hong Kong's institutions than previously thought," the agency added, hinting pressure from Beijing.

This is a pretty big strike against Lam and her administration, who are bringing "Team HK", including the trade secretary, top officials from the stock exchange, airport authority, MTR Corp and the head of Swire Group to the Swiss mountain resort.

But perhaps a more eminent threat is the Wuhan pneumonia that is spreading quickly (or we just haven't been told the truth about it all along), and it is only a matter of time before the first confirmed cases are in Hong Kong.

The corona virus in Wuhan is spreading very quickly
If Hong Kong does experience another SARS outbreak, that will be a double blow to the city's economy that has already been battered by the protests.

News of the pneumonia-like virus spreading resulted in Asian stocks taking a battering, and Hong Kong more so with the downgrade from Moody's.

How is Lam going to convince world leaders that she can lead the city out of these crises? She hasn't demonstrated any kind of leadership in the past eight months...

Monday, 20 January 2020

Wuhan Pneumonia Cases Jump

It is believed the Wuhan coronavirus started in this market in Wuhan
The Wuhan coronavirus just jumped exponentially today with the announcement of three people who have died from the pneumonia-like virus, and reports over 130 new cases this past weekend bringing the total to 198 in the Chinese city in Hubei province.

Xi calls on officials to stop the spread of the virus
It is believed the source is from a seafood and animal meat market in Wuhan.  So far the entire country has reported 218 cases.

Today President Xi Jinping has ordered officials to "resolutely contain" the spread of Wuhan pneumonia, and that "the safety of people's lives and health should be given top priority".

 Errr... how come it took Xi this long to say that when the mystery virus was first reported on December 30, and now hundreds of millions of people are traveling on public transport to their hometowns for Spring Festival?

In addition, many Chinese people's knowledge about personal hygiene let alone food hygiene is not up to par with international standards, making it very difficult to try to stop and isolate the cases as quickly as possible since it is now believed many cases were from human-to-human transmission.

Health workers in hazmat suits treating a patient in Wuhan
The virus has also apparently spread to other countries with cases reported in South Korea, Thailand and Japan. Meanwhile Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Nepal and Taiwan are monitoring suspected cases.

According to the Secretary for Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said today there are 106 people in isolation in Hong Kong with suspected symptoms.

And how is the city trying to stop and isolate the number of cases of possible Wuhan pneumonia?

The Department of Health has announced it will require mainland Chinese travelers from Wuhan to make a health declaration starting from midnight tonight. But strangely, Chan says mainland train passengers will not be asked to make health declarations at the West Kowloon train terminus.

Why does Chan (middle) not implement stronger measures?
Why the discrepancy? Shouldn't all travelers from China be screened? A person from Wuhan may not even know or think they have symptoms of the Wuhan virus. Or even if they do, would they declare it?

This is really pathetic handling by the Hong Kong government on this fast-emerging health issue. Did the authorities not learn from SARS in 2003? This is a matter of life and death, not about appeasing senior Chinese officials by being less lenient on mainlanders coming to the city...