Time to cross

I stopped reading the SCMP years ago, but their letter column remains a delight

Adjust traffic lights to suit pedestrians’ needs

I refer to the letter, “Stricter speed limits for pedestrian safety” (February 1). I fully agree with the suggestions in the letter. On one specific point, referring to elderly pedestrians, your correspondent writes, “Many are scared stiff about being penalised for neglecting the traffic lights; they face a fine of HK$2,000 even when there is no incoming traffic”. This is a problem the Transport Department fails to acknowledge or address.

Very frequently, the time phase of traffic lights does not seem to be optimised and adjusted to suit current traffic conditions. This results in long periods of time during which a section of road might have little or no traffic but crowds of pedestrians are bunched up together on far-too-narrow pavements, unable even to walk along the pavement, let alone cross the road. It is extremely frustrating to wait for more than one or two minutes to cross a road when there is absolutely zero motor traffic.

This failure to account for pedestrian considerations needs urgent improvement. Traffic light phases at busy junctions should be constantly monitored and adjusted to facilitate pedestrian movements more readily when there is light traffic. This could be done by the central control room, where crossings are camera monitored. Artificial intelligence technology could also be used to adjust traffic light phases affording greater priority to pedestrians.

There is another possible feature that could be used in remote and less busy light-controlled crossings. This system is used extensively in the United Kingdom and Europe. The lights are normally kept on green in favour of vehicular traffic, but when a pedestrian presses a button at the crossing, the traffic lights are almost immediately switched in favour of the pedestrian, allowing them just enough time to cross the road before changing back in favour of vehicles.

P.A. Crush, Discovery Bay

I think it might blow PA Crush's mind, but Hong Kong already has several of these pedestrian-controlled crossings, as he would know if he had read Press the Button and Wait from here nearly 20 years ago.

The problem is that most people seem to be unaware of the magic that is available if only they would press the button.  They will stand there patiently waiting for the lights to change, and wait and wait. 

Most crossings are 100% automatic and they also have a button, but that is to make a sound when it is time to cross.  So it is possibly a little confusing.

A little.


Man decides not to play in football match

I was walking through a shopping mall on Sunday afternoon and the big screen was showing football.


Open for BusinessHong Kong is back back back.  Inter Miami CF are in town.  The game is a sell-out. The government is delighted, and have grand plans to show Lionel Messi around the city.  Chief Executive Lee Ka-chiu will be at the game to meet Messi.

We are told that Messi is guaranteed to play at least 45 minutes. 

Unless he is injured. 

And what are the chances that a 36 year-old footballer would miss a pre-season friendly due to injury?  No need to worry about that.

Except that...Messi turns out to be injured.  Oh no.  And Luis Suarez spends the game standing on the touchline.  

Never mind, lots of other footballers are playing for Miami.  There are goals, scored by Robert Taylor, Lawson Sunderland, Leonardo Campana and Ryan Sailor.  No, me neither.

After the game, naughty old Leo runs away and avoids shaking the hand of Lee Ka-chiu.  He also declines to be shown around the city.

A few days later, Messi and Miami are in Toyko for another pre-season friendly.  It's not a sell-out, the government is not involved, and Suarez plays 75 minutes and Messi manages 30 minutes.

SCMP Messi

I've never gone to a game to watch just one player, though I did take a small person to the 2007 Premier League Asia Trophy (in Hong Kong), and the presence of David James was very exciting for him (especially when he saved two penalties).  

But, of course, that tournament wasn't promoted almost entirely on the back of one player.

...who is 36 years old.

...and who has been on a world tour, traveling to El Salvador, Dallas, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Tokyo playing meaningless matches.

If I had paid all that money for a ticket based on a promise that Messi would play, I think I would want at least a partial refund.  However, it seems that the organizers didn't have any real guarantee that Messi would play and so they will not be getting any money back.

Certainly the government is not happy, as per the SCMP

The Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau said Hongkongers would be “baffled by this”, and said the city’s residents deserved “a reasonable explanation”.

“The coach of Inter Miami said Messi could not play in Hong Kong because of an injury, but he looked fine in the match in Japan, and was running around for a decent amount of time,” the bureau said.

But real football fans "hating" Messi for not playing?  Don't think so.

 

 


All masked up

Well, Hong Kong has finally abandoned the requirement to wear masks. 

You may remember that people in Hong Kong started wearing masks back in January 2020, though initially the government was absolutely not in favour of this (having made it illegal a few months ago during that thing we don't talk about anymore).

It was only in July 2020 that it was made compulsory everywhere indoors, and then within a few days it applied outdoors as well.  This was when the government also announced a total ban on eating in restaurants  for 7 days - which was swiftly abandoned. 

The rules for restaurants have changed many times over the last three years.  At one time we had the bizarre spectacle of families spread across two or three tables (because of the maximum of two per table), and tables split in two with a glass (or perspex) screen so that larger groups could be accommodated without breaking the rules.  There have been a lot of changes since then, and according to this list the maximum number of people per table was increased to 12 in October 2022, and of course the LeaveHomeSafe QR code scanning requirement ended in December.  

But those mask rules have remained in place for more than two and a half years, even after Mainland China abandoned them, with only one concession (no need to wear one when taking exercise).  

You might have expected that everyone would stop wearing masks when the restrictions ended. 

But, no, the vast majority of people are still wearing masks on public transport and in shops and shopping centres.  

Even outdoors, a lot of people are wearing them.

Probably there is a certain amount of peer pressure that encourages people to wear them rather than being the odd one out.  Maybe that will gradually change, but it seems that people are quite comfortable wearing masks in public. 

Which begs the question: was it really necessary to have laws to make them compulsory everywhere  for everybody for nearly 1,000 days?


Not busy, apparently

I have previously written about Wrong MTR station names and the Hong Kong Free Press has an interesting article on a similar theme

Foreign influence Part 1: Lost in translation

[..] Mong Kok is another prime example. The former coastal region was named after the overgrown silvergrass found in the area 芒角 mong4 gok3, (‘corner of silvergrass’).

When the government reclaimed the bay and developed the area in the early 1900s, the Chinese name was changed to 旺角(wong6 gok3) which means “Prosperity Point.”

The English name was never updated.

I remember being told that 芒角 meant "busy" place, but that seems to be another Chinese character 忙with the same Pinyin romanization, which is an understandable error for anyone who didn't check a 19th Century map.  

The author of the HKFP piece seems to be Chinese, so predictably makes a better job of this than I did!

 


Super abundance of caution

Hong Kong has one of the best COVID vaccines (Comirnaty from BioNTech in Germany) freely available. 

Or if an mRNA vaccine with 91.3% efficacy isn’t to your liking, you’re in luck because the Sinovac vaccine, with an efficacy rate of just 50.7% is also available. 

Political theatre is never far away and all true patriots are choosing the vaccine from the PRC (though there’s another, more practical reason - if you need to travel to the PRC). 

Both vaccines offer remarkably good protection against severe disease and death, and side effects are minimal, but the vaccination centres are not operating anywhere close to capacity.

There are many reasons why people are not choosing to get vaccinated.image

  • Is it because Hong Kong has had less than 12,000 cases in total and only 210 deaths? 
    • Probably yes.  The risk of getting COVID here is very low
    • Singapore has had more cases than Hong Kong (but far less than many places) and more than 80% are willing to take the vaccine and they are way ahead on the number of jabs.
  • Could it because the media here report on deaths of people who have had the vaccine?
    • That certainly doesn’t help. 
  • Maybe it’s because many medical professionals don’t seem keen on the vaccines. 
    • I have to say that I find this fairly shocking
  • Clearly it can’t be because people don’t trust the government. 
    • We all know that the National Security Law is a good thing and those pesky demonstrators should all be in prison.  Glad we’ve cleared that up.

Here’s a Twitter thread with a link to an article with more information:

image

Or there’s this article from HKFP: Don’t trust the science or don’t trust the gov’t? Why many Hongkongers are shunning Covid vaccination.

Meanwhile, the government has been applying a super abundance of caution in quarantining so-called “close contacts” and almost everyone arriving in Hong Kong.

The definition of “close contact” was extended to everyone living in the apartment blocks of variant cases, because, well, just because.  This led to thousands of people being sent to one of the government camps for 21 days. 

They did back down on this after numerous complaints and no actual cases being detected.  Oh, and some dodgy food.  They also reduced the number of days quarantine for anyone who is fully vaccinated.  But there are still quite a lot of people being sent into quarantine.

There has been a minor relaxation for quarantine of arrivals.  Recently, the UK was moved from group A2 to B, meaning that if you are fully vaccinated you “only” have to stay for 2 weeks in one of the approved hotels.  Australia and New Zealand are currently in the lowest group (14 or 7 days) but this list keeps being reviewed so you can never be certain.

Last year the default was home quarantine with electronic monitoring:  they gave you a bracelet to wear and you had to install an app on your mobile phone.  This option was withdrawn for the UK in October, and for almost everywhere else in late December, so you have to pay to stay in a hotel room with no fresh air (and lousy food in many cases).  There is a choice of hotels, but many are fully booked, particularly in the coming months when students will be returning from studying overseas.

Apparently the Joint Scientific Committee recommended that home quarantine should be re-introduced, but this was vetoed by the CHP.

Some interesting comments from Ben Cowling (Professor at the School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong), who proposes that the government should:

set a timeline to end quarantines-on-arrival, say, after September. That means Covid-19 will find its way back into the community sooner or later — and if that happens without vaccine coverage it means more restrictions and social distancing, except for those who are vaccinated. And at the same time, we immediately allow vaccinated people to skip quarantine.

Seems logical enough.


The COVID dance

The latest cluster of cases in Hong Kong comes from...dance clubs.  

Who'd have guessed that a lot of people not wearing masks in an enclosed space could cause the spread of COVID-19?  

Well, maybe anyone who remembered the several large clusters earlier in the year from banquets where groups of people were dancing without masks. 

That also seems to be happening again, though possibly on a smaller scale (and maybe with less dancing).  Of course they follow the law by having the guests all seated in tables of four (or six previously), but people move from table to table without putting on masks.

On the other hand, it was very noticeable on Sunday that there were fewer people out and about, so there is some hope.  Well, that and the vaccines, of course.


Words

Some real posters seen in Hong Kong:

Hot Promotions

Ready to school?  No, no, no.

In the same vein, we have this:

image

This is one of a series.  The first is “Sense of Chic”, but someone got over-confident after that and decided that prepositions are fully interchangeable, so we have the meaningless “Savor of Joy” and absurdity that is “Smart of Kids”.

This next one is from the same company (SHKP), and verges on the surreal:

“Aspire to inspire the new one”.  It’s just a jumble of words, but it would be greatly improved by removing the “one” at the end.  Meaningless, but not quite so offensive to pedants.

All three are from large companies, who must surely have access to native speakers, but maybe part of the problem is that Microsoft Word finds nothing wrong with any of these phrases:

image

Really, Microsoft - what are you checking?


Eating Out

So, how’s it going on another very hot (and wet) day in Hong Kong?

Hongkongers dine on the roadside [Hong Kong Free Press]

Across the city, Hongkongers were forced to eat outdoors as the government ban on dine-in services at restaurants kicked in. Photos from local media and the internet showed many people – especially construction workers – sitting on the sidewalks, in gutters and in parks finishing their lunchtime takeaway meals.

[..] “During the sweltering summer, asking workers to eat under the sun and rain is not only inhumane, it also leads to different kinds of hygiene issues. The situation is worrying,” the Construction Site Workers General Union said on Tuesday.

The government’s latest dine-in ban was criticised by both pro-democracy and pro-establishment lawmakers. Democrat Claudia Mo told HKFP that two-persons per table at eateries should be allowed: “Miserable, unthinking, unfeeling bureaucrats taking Hong Kong down the drain.”

For kitchen-less Hong Kongers, new ban on restaurant dining is a bitter pill [Reuters]

Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers live in subdivided tiny apartments, shared by multiple families and which often do not have kitchen facilities or even if they do, are too cramped to be used often.

“Many people don’t cook or cannot cook. Lots of old people cannot cook. Most of my friends don’t have kitchens - they eat out for every meal,” said a car driver who gave his surname as Chong as he walked through the bustling Wan Chai district where food stalls line the streets.

For the seven-day duration of the ban, people without a kitchen will have to make do with takeout or food purchased at supermarkets.

RTHK offers this response from the government:

With a ban on dine-in services now in effect, health authorities also addressed concerns about some employees, such as construction workers, forced to eat outdoors – sometimes under pouring rain and in groups. Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan from the the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said even though she doesn’t see an outbreak at construction sites, she urged people to maintain good hygiene and not to talk much while having meals.

But, to be fair, the government are doing something:

There’s more analysis:

Hong Kong was a pandemic poster child. Now it’s a cautionary tale [Washington Post]

At the start of this month, restaurants here had waiting lists , bars were overflowing, and beaches were dotted with umbrellas and sand seekers. Three weeks had elapsed since the last locally transmitted novel coronavirus case, and the pandemic appeared to be down, if not entirely beaten .

All of that progress has come to a halt, as government missteps and a mutated strain of the coronavirus that some scientists believe is more contagious have led to the most severe wave of infections in Hong Kong since the onset of the crisis in January.

So, yes, it's all going very well.


Drastic measures

It’s the sixth day in a row with over 100 COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong.  These seem like quite unusual stats.  We don’t have exponential growth, and this isn’t really “flattening the curve” because that usually comes after weeks of growth.  But whatever we call it, 1100+ cases in the last 2 weeks is obviously putting a strain on hospitals (and quarantine facilities). 

The government seems to be responding in slow motion.  When it emerged that more than 20,000 people had been exempted from testing and self-isolation - and that some of these rules had recently been further relaxed - it seemed a fairly obvious explanation for the surge in cases.  They insisted that it wasn’t - and anyway it was necessary for the economy.  Fortunately, some challenged this argument:      

'People exempt from quarantine behind new wave'

Gabriel Leung, dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said that the current wave of Covid-19 infections was brought in from outside of Hong Kong, most likely by people exempted from mandatory quarantine

The government eventually announced several changes to the rules to take effect from July 29th. 

Health experts questioned why the changes would only come into effect from Wednesday rather than immediately, saying such workers were likely to be the reason for the recent surge in infections and that the measures were too little, too late.  [SCMP]

Apart from that, the problem here was not that the government wanted to make life a little easier for sailors, it was that they failed to put in place any proper procedures.  It was surely predictable that sailors would go to places where social distancing was difficult (small restaurants, cheap lodging houses) and potentially infect some of the local population, which seems to be what happened in East Kowloon.     

But the really big news is that Wednesday will bring even more drastic restrictions that will affect almost everyone in Hong Kong.

  • No dine-in at restaurants (for 7 days)
  • 2 person limit on groups gathering
  • Masks to to be compulsory outdoors in public places

No eating out?  Hong Kong has some very tiny apartments (and also a lot of modestly sized apartments with three generations living in close proximity to each other).  Eating out is almost a necessity for many (and a lot more affordable than in other parts of the world), but it will simply not be possible for at least seven days.  One might almost think that our very highly paid Chief Executive and her well-paid advisors and senior civil servants don’t quite understand the way ordinary people live.

Talking of which, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung was asked where working people can have lunch (given the dine-in ban and mask rules): "You can eat takeaway in the office. And we do not have restriction on country parks.”  That’s a great idea - everyone can go to a country park for their lunch (in their chauffeur-driven car, perhaps).

Maybe you can try to work from home in your crowded apartment.  If it’s possible and allowed - and if you work in an office, that is.  Otherwise, well good luck.

Ah, yes, you might say, but there are lots of clusters around restaurants, so action was needed.  Well….one was the very large dinner gathering in Mong Kok which clearly broke the rules that were in place at that time (and 33 people from there have been infected as of yesterday).  A birthday party with 20 tables in a Tuen Mun restaurant led to a similar number of cases and there have been 15 cases from a large group in a Kwai Fong restaurant [more info].

What if the limit of 8 people dining together had been left in place for a while longer?

Meanwhile, it’s hard to see how the limit on gatherings can be enforced.  Or wearing masks outside, for that matter. 

And we have the obvious problem that imposing so many different restrictions will make it impossible to know what has worked.  And people have been staying at home, which must have an effect. 

Watch this space.


Getting worse

So here we are on Day HowLongHasThisBeenGoingOn of COVID-19.

Things in Hong Kong have changed significantly recently with 500 new cases in the last two weeks, mostly locally transmitted and many of unknown origin.

Things are particularly bad in East Kowloon.  There were 40+ cases in restaurants in Tsz Wan Shan Shopping Centre and 50+ in two elderly care homes (a big problem in the UK, Sweden and elsewhere). 

It can’t be a coincidence that this is happening a couple of weeks after many of the restrictions were lifted, including the re-opening of gyms, and more people being allowed in bars, karaoke, restaurants, etc.

Some say it’s the 200,000+ who have come to Hong Kong without being tested or having to quarantine for 14 days.  One theory is that “case zero” in this wave was a taxi driver taking someone from the airport, and it was then spread more widely via a 茶餐廳 (Cha Chaan Teng).  It’s not surprising that people can get infected in a small café.

But wait, it turns out it wasn’t that - it was the pro-democracy march on 1 July and the primaries on 11 & 12 July.  All those people outdoors wearing masks, or briefly indoors wearing masks.

It definitely wasn’t the 100 - 200 people attending a dinner in Mong Kong on 9 July  and not wearing masks, including 40+ people dancing.  This was on a day when 42 new cases were announced and people were reminded to follow the guidelines, which (at that time) included a limit of 50 people gathering in one place.  

Maybe if you’re celebrating the return of Hong Kong to China those rules don’t apply.   But at least four people at that dinner have contracted COVID-19 and it seems certain that there will be more. 

The government announced several measures last week, including the limit on social gathering going back down from 50 to 4, the closure of schools (because that’s what they always do), and all bars, gyms, cinemas and karaoke lounges had to shut down.  Restaurants are not allowed to operate between 6 pm and 5 am - because obviously people are more infectious at night.

Many wondered why the government wasn’t asking civil servants to work from home, and they eventually got around to doing that on 19 July.  The significance of this is that it would encourage other employers to follow suit.  

It was ever thus - at the beginning of all this when we first heard rumours of a SARS-like disease in Wuhan, everyone started wearing masks on public transport and in shopping centres - and the initial response of the government was that this was a bad thing.  Hmmm…   Now, many months later it is compulsory to wear masks on public transport, and yesterday this was extended to all indoor spaces.  The government seems not to have to have enforced their new rules, but they are definitely planning a meeting to arrange for that.

Unsurprisingly, people rushed to supermarkets to stock up on rice and toilet rolls, but without any major supply issues that should pass fairly quickly.