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Society

Hong Kong: Sweltering summers challenge residents of "pigeon cages" as temperatures soar

  • By: Yuqi CHU、Juncong SHUAIEdited by: Chengqi MO
  • 2023-04-28

At the end of the narrow aisle crammed with household goods, an old air conditioner hums as it struggles to cool the flat where 11 residents live in eight tiny cells separated by makeshift wooden walls.  Around noon, Xia Renhui 52, who has been living in this subdivided flat in Tsuen Wan for five years, prepares his lunch in the shared kitchen. The thermometer hanging on the wall records a temperature of 37˚ C. The scalding water from the tap and the steam spurting out of the rice cooker make Xia feel smothered.   "The whole room feels like a smelting furnace. Every inch of my skin is burning," said Xia.  In Hong Kong, more than 214,000 people like Xia live in subdivided flats, according to government statistics, where increasing summer temperatures are made worse by cramped, unventilated construction and expensive air-conditioning bills. Globally, over the past few hundred years, greenhouse gases from industrialization have led to global warming and an increase in extreme climates, according to a United Nations report. Hong Kong keeps breaking its temperature records. Last year, Hong Kong residents survived the hottest July in the past 138 years, when record keeping began, breaking a previous record set in 2020. And a high temperature of 35°C or above was recorded for 10 consecutive days in July last year, topping the annual record, according to the Hong Kong Observatory. At least five cases of sudden death at work suspected to be related to heat stroke have been reported between June and July in 2022. Hot nights increase the risk of death by about 2% to 3%, while a prolonged period of five or more hot nights raises the risk to 6.66%. Women had a six percent higher risk of dying from hot weather, while older adults had a five …

Society

Hong Kong farmers adopt survival measures amidst rising temperatures

  • By: Tsz Yin HO、Mollie HibEdited by: Dhuha AL-ZAIDI
  • 2023-04-26

Just a 25-minute walk from Kam Sheung Road station between Pat Hueng and Kam Tin in Hong Kong’s New Territories is Fruitful Organic Farm, a locally-owned farm that’s been operating for 12 years. Roughly 30 to 40 crops grow here, neatly aligned with small wooden labels: tomatoes, pak-choy and lettuce, to name a few.  But this farm doesn’t make money from its organic produce. Instead, its income comes from renting out plots of land to other farmers, a survival response to climate change. As temperatures rise, some of Hong Kong’s farms are turning to land rentals and severe weather planting techniques to keep their crops and livelihoods alive. Paul Kwok, 66, who has owned Fruitful Organic Farm for over a decade, said his farm started as an effort to give Hongkongers an opportunity to rely less on imports and to plant their own vegetables organically. But he stopped selling his own produce to hawkers last year. Kwok said this was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rising temperatures affecting the yield and size of vegetables and fruits. “I believe that we have suffered at least a 30% loss in harvest yield since I first started farming,” he said. Currently, over 90% of Kwok’s land has been rented out. “Our income is even more stable with renting out land to people than it was with selling crops,” he added.  Neighboring farms, such as Go Green Farm, have also adopted a similar business model.  Hong Kong has consistently gotten hotter over the years. According to the Hong Kong Observatory, the region’s average increase in temperature per decade from 1993 to 2022 was 0.28 degrees celsius.  The Observatory also recorded that the annual number of very hot nights, classified as days with a maximum temperature of 33 degrees Celsius or above, has increased …

Society

Tai O's dolphin-watching trips lose business as local marine mammals and tourists decline

  • By: Junzhe JIANG、Yuhan WANG、Xiya RUIEdited by: KOO Chi Tung 顧知桐
  • 2023-04-26

“HK$40 for a ticket! Don’t miss the chance to see the local pink dolphins here,” said Chow Tin-long on his boat, waving tickets in his hands. Chow has been running dolphin-watching activities in Tai O, a traditional fishing village on Lantau Island, for more than 15 years. . Chinese white dolphins,  commonly known as “pink dolphins”, have been a mascot of Hong Kong since 1977 and a common tourist activity in Tai O, said Chow. Chow, who works with three other fishermen, takes tourists out in his own boat for 20 minutes at a time to see the dolphins whose habitat is just off the coast.  However, the number of Chinese white dolphins in Hong Kong has plunged from 158 in 2003 to about 40 in 2022, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department. With the decreasing numbers of dolphins and tourists, Chow and other small business owners in Tai O who rely on dolphin tourism to make a living have started to adapt with new revenue streams. They also find themselves raising public awareness of the marine creatures’ plight caused by climate change, land reclamation and heavy ferry traffic. Chow said business has dropped from around 30 to 40 tourists a day to only five or 10. He is earning about 40% less than he did ten years ago, he said.  “More than half of them could see the dolphins previously, but it’s hard to estimate now,” Chow said.“It is a hard time for us who make a living with the dolphins as I sold two of my boats for money five years ago.” He tried to reduce the ticket’s price but it didn’t help. After years of loss, Chow started to adapt his business model. “I once opened a grilled fish restaurant before the COVID-19, which only …

Health & Environment

Budget 2023: Government allocates HK$7 billion to greener city efforts

  • By: James Ezekiel Kalaw MODESTOEdited by: Mollie Hib
  • 2023-02-22

Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced HK$7 billion towards building a greener Hong Kong this morning. The environmental proposals include a focus on decarbonisation, electric vehicles, food waste and countryside conservation. The Green City project, introduced in last year’s budget, will further be developed by continuing the city’s mission to be carbon neutral by 2050. Chan said that the government aims to reduce Hong Kong’s carbon emissions by 50% before 2035.  The government will also form the Council for Carbon Neutrality and Sustainable Development to advise on decarbonisation strategies, Chan said. Chan said that the government will continue “building a liveable city” through additional plans, like introducing electric transportation, enlarging the scope of food waste collection points and funding countryside conservation and revitalisation projects. However, despite this year’s proposals by the government, some environmentalists remain critical of the plans. Hong Kong Biodiversity Museum Director, Benoit Guenard, 42, said that stimulating people’s interest in being environmentally conscious is important to get individuals more involved in protecting the environment. Guenard also said that the government should allocate more funding towards developing institutions, such as public museums. “I think it’s a pity that Hong Kong has not reached that level of realising how valuable these kinds of institutions are,” he said. The museum director said that government funding towards the HKBM only occurred two years ago since its opening in 2014 in Pok Fu Lam. ”It is important to let people foster an understanding of being environmentally aware,” said Stephen Ng Chung-on, 64, senior manager of Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change. “Public education is always the key to improving people’s understanding of many things,” said Ng. “It can be easy to propose and make projects because the government has the capability. But the people must also grasp what is the …

Health & Environment

Budget Plan 2023: health care spending reduced; no more free COVID tests

  • By: Yiyang LI、Hanzhi YANGEdited by: Tsz Yin HO
  • 2023-02-22

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po will cut the health care expenditure amid the easing of COVID-19 regulations and an overall financial deficit. The Hong Kong government will lower the healthcare budget to HK$104.4 billion, nearly 35% less than last year, still accounting for 19% of government spending. The funding will be mainly used to improve public medical services, such as temporary cancer services, along with building more beds and operating rooms for public hospitals. As the government has dropped all COVID policies, including mandatory PCR test requirements, free testing services will be cancelled from March.1. Only paid testing services will remain. “Very few people come for tests and our workload is much lighter,” said Tong Man-fa, 37, who works for a community testing centre in Yau Ma Tei. A paid test costs HK$240 for express service and HK$150 for standard service; the government has covered these costs since they began. “I think it’s time to shut down this place, and I return to my department,” Tong added. “The decrease in spending is a reasonable move,” said Dr Ada Fong, a doctor of Internal Medicine at Kwong Wah Hospital. She said the number of hospital admissions last year was significantly higher than this year and most of those patients were seeking COVID treatment. “Despite the reduction in spending, the quality of overall medical service should still remain,” Fong said. Chan also said in the budget that the government will invest more in strengthening televisual diagnosis to lower the queuing time. Dr Fong said that it may not be very effective as most diseases require physical checks and hospital care. “I don’t feel it’s more useful than hiring more medical staff,” Fong said.

Health & Environment

Endangered waterbird spotted in Hong Kong

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: James Ezekiel Kalaw MODESTOEdited by: Ming Min AW YONG
  • 2023-02-11

A routine morning bike ride at Tai Lam Country Park on 20 January turned into an unforgettable moment for birdwatcher John Chow Kwok-pun. He spotted what he recognised as a female merganser bird at a stream near Kat Hing Bridge, but could not identify it at the time because the bird was diving and swimming in the reservoir. “My first impression was that it was likely to be a female Red-breasted Merganser, a rare but regular species in Hong Kong,” said Chow. “However, its presence in freshwater habitat raises suspicion that it may not be this species, but one of two that prefers freshwater habitat.” Three days later, Chow returned to the bridge along with other bird watchers. “I could see that the merganser has fine gray scales on the chest and flanks, ruling out Red-breasted and Common Mergansers,” said Chow. “The overall features fall within those of a Scaly-sided Merganser, a previously unrecorded species in Hong Kong.” It turned out to be the first Scaly-sided Merganser ever spotted in Hong Kong. It is an endangered duck species native to North Asia and the Russian Far East. "The Scaly-sided Merganser, though first recorded in Hong Kong this year, has been recorded in the region and is considered a rare winter visitor to South China," said Joyee Chan Long-kwan, a fauna conservation officer at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. The large duck is endemic to the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, a major migratory route for over 50 million waterbirds, according to the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership, which includes the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society. "Hong Kong is a major stopover point along the bird migration route. The wide variety of local habitats contributes to the diversity of the birds," said Chan. The Scaly-sided Merganser is on the endangered list of the …

Society

Hong Kong eases curbs on vaccine pass checks except cinemas and ice rinks

A number of premises like public wet markets, religious venues and game centres will no longer have active vaccine checks for visitors starting from today, but scanning the LeaveHomeSafe QR code is still required. Active inspections of vaccine passes will be scrapped for premises, as the government announced last Thursday. No actively check is patron’s vaccination records or exemption certificates upon their entry. That means amber code holders are permitted to visit those venues. People under the category of amber code means they are inbound visitors from overseas places or Taiwan, who are not allowed to enter premises subject to "active checking" of the vaccine pass. Wong Muk-ching, dean of Lai Yiu Alliance Church welcomes the policy, he said using vaccine pass to decide whether the congregation can go back to the church was unacceptable. “Amber code holders can go back to the church after the policy implemented, which they are not allowed to do so before,” Wong said. “There are people who have obtained amber codes due to not having the valid vaccine pass which has restricted them from going back to church during the COVID-19 outbreak. Those having an amber code can return the church in a legal way,” he added. Wong said the government has enacted effective policy in coping with COVID-19, ensuring those who are infected will not be able to enter the church. “This policy now even makes those with amber codes entering the church more conveniently,” he said. “Ice rinks which require facemasks and cinemas that prohibit food or drink could drop “active checking”,” Libby Lee Ha-yun, Under Secretary for Health announced today in the press conference. But one day before the launch of the updated policies, the government announced that social distancing measures for these two venues remain the same as before, meaning …

Health & Environment

Hong Kong International medical fair uncovers new tech and connections

The final day of the 13th Hong Kong International Medical and Healthcare Fair’s physical exhibition was held today, with many new products and technological developments unveiled.  The fair, organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), opened on Nov 9. It was held in conjunction with the second Asia Summit on Global Health (ASGH).  More than 300 exhibitors present their latest products and developments at the exhibition. Over 110 startup companies participated in introducing their up-to-date investments to transfer their business to a global scale with potential investors. “3D Organon,” a medical anatomy VR platform invented by Umedco (Far East) Ltd, was exhibited in the hospital equipment zone. The VR headset is designed for educational purposes, improving medical students’ understanding of anatomy interactively. It is used by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, while other tertiary institutions have approached the company for further application in education, said Henry Yik, business manager of Umedco Ltd.  “The atmosphere and visitor flow of the exhibition is better this year as there is a particular exhibition for medical technology, unlike last year, the healthcare tech fair was combined with other exhibitions,” said Yik. More than 300 exhibitors from Canada, Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, and so forth attended the fair.  AIRS Medical, a Korean-based medical AI startup, is one of the overseas exhibitors at the fair. Its products include an AI diagnosis technology reducing MRI scan time by about 50%.  Aditi Joshi, business development manager of AIRS Medical, said they have successfully connected with their target buyers at the exhibition, such as local MRI scanners distributors and medical imaging clinics.  “We also identified potential business opportunities from foreign buyers from the US, China, and the Philippines throughout the exhibition,” said Joshi. Another spotlight among startup exhibitors is a transdermal drug and cell delivery technology …

Society

Taiwan disappoints Hongkongers by allowing them to travel only by joining sightseeing tours

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Tsz In Warren LEUNG、Ka Ki FUNGEdited by: Gigi Chong、Kelly Pang
  • 2022-11-07

Following Taiwan's reopening of its borders to the first international groups last month, the authorities announced that Hong Kong visitors could travel in groups starting from Monday, but it failed to satisfy many who have been looking forward to visiting the island. Travellers must travel in groups of five to 40 people through a Taiwan-approved travel agency and can stay on the island for a maximum of 15 days. Visitors are no longer required to undergo PCR testing or quarantine upon entry. They must obtain a negative result of a rapid antigen test result within two days of arrival and monitor themselves for a week. Taiwan has always been one of the popular tourist destinations for Hong Kong people. Due to COVID-19, Taiwan authorities have imposed border controls for two and a half years. Man Tak-ming, 74, managing director of Maywood Travel, who has organised Taiwan travel groups for 40 years, believes the new policy helps attract Hongkongers to visit Taiwan. “Hongkongers love to spend their weekend holidays in Taiwan, as the flight only takes an hour to get there, and airfare and accommodation are not expensive,” Man said. Chung Chi-kan, 67, managing director of Globair Limited, said the ease of border control would “definitely” benefit the local tourism industry, but the flight capacity should be complementary with the reopening of borders. “The airline companies should offer more flight and seat supplies to cope with the surge of tourists after the reopening of borders, while the amount of the flight capacity has not yet returned to the pre-Covid level,” Chung said. However, many Hongkongers prefer to arrange their own travel to Taiwan rather than join a tour group. Eunice Leung, 50, welcomed the policy but suggested that self-guided tours would be more attractive. She is looking forward to bringing her …

Society

“0+3” brings hope to Hong Kong travelers

Freelancer Chan Pui-leung began to make his travel plans for Hong Kong after the government relaxed the mandatory quarantine requirement to “0+3” in late September, which means that inbound travellers no longer required to spend three days in isolation at a designated hotel and an additional four days at home for medical monitoring. Instead, they only need to undergo a three-day medical surveillance at home. “It is more convenient because it is more flexible to schedule returns and outbound travel,” the 29-year-old said. Hong Kong's tourism industry has been hit hard for more than two years by the city's adoption of one of the world's most stringent covid-19 policies for inbound visitors, such as hotel isolation, PCR testing and social distancing. Hongkongers who want to travel are also restricted by the policy. According to the Census and Statistics Department, the number of visitors to Hong Kong in 2021 dropped by 99.8 percent compared to pre-Covid-19 figures. Chan, who is staying in Japan, said he postponed his return to Hong Kong when the "3+4" scheme took effect. “The ‘3+4’ policy was not very practical and cost the public a lot of money. ‘0+3’ is more acceptable to locals, but it is still very inconvenient for foreign visitors and international business,” Chan said. However, Chan added that the restraints on the vaccine pass, which limits travelers movement in the first three days, remain off-putting. According to Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu, the relaxation of isolation requirements came after a steady decline in Covid-19 infections, signaling a return to a bustling city environment. “We made this decision after we took factors such as livelihoods, economic activities, Hong Kong’s competitiveness, convenience for arrivals into account, as well as striking a balance between various needs,” he said. Overseas arrivals are now only required to take …