More Hong Kong protests planned as metro limps back to business

A commuter jumps over a turnstile at Yau Ma Tei station of Hong Kong’s metro system after its partial opening. The usually efficient service was forced to shut down after arson attacks by anti-government protesters. (Reuters)
Updated 10 October 2019

More Hong Kong protests planned as metro limps back to business

  • MTR Corp, whose network carries about 5 million passengers a day, said all lines would close more than three hours earlier than normal
  • Closures come ahead of more protests on Thursday and others planned for the rest of the week

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s metro rail system will shut early again on Thursday to allow time to repair damaged facilities, its operator said as the city braced for more anti-government demonstrations after a string of violent protests in the Asian financial hub.
MTR Corp, whose network carries about 5 million passengers a day, said a line servicing a densely populated area in the city’s New Territories would not operate and all lines would close by 9p.m., more than three hours earlier than normal.
The usually efficient service was forced to shut down after arson attacks by anti-government protesters on Friday night, paralyzing transport across the Chinese-ruled city. It has operated only partially since.
The closures also come ahead of more protests on Thursday and others planned for the rest of the week.
The unrest started more than four months ago in what began as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill but has since widened into a pro-democracy movement amid fears that China is encroaching on Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Those freedoms were guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula when Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, a formula that allows wide-ranging autonomy not enjoyed on the mainland.
However, the unrest has pushed the special administrative region into its worst political crisis since 1997 and poses the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Demonstrations planned for Thursday include some in support of Taiwan on its National Day and rallies against perceived police brutality, with protesters expected to wear eye patches to show solidarity with a young protester who was injured in clashes with police.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said in a National Day speech Hong Kong was “on the edge of disorder” because of the failure of “one country, two systems,” and she vowed to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty as Beijing ramps up pressure on the self-ruled island.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province and there had been suggestions in China after Hong Kong’s 1997 return that Taiwan could be brought back into the fold under a similar formula.
Hong Kong is still recovering from a long weekend of violent clashes between police and tens of thousands of protesters.
Scores of shops remain boarded up after being trashed or torched, anti-government graffiti is scrawled over bus stops and buildings, and some streets are still strewn with broken glass and twisted metal debris.
Protest violence has often targeted the MTR mass transit system, which has been accused of closing stations at the government’s behest to stop demonstrators gathering.
The city’s economy has been hammered by the protests as it faces its first recession in a decade. The tourism and retail sectors have been hit particularly hard as visitors stay away.
Shopping malls and businesses have been forced to shut repeatedly, while a slew of events and conferences have moved to other locations, including Singapore.
The political sensitivities of the protests have also ensnared international businesses, with the US National Basketball Association the latest example after Chinese organizers on Wednesday canceled a fan event over a tweet by a team official supporting the Hong Kong protests.
China has warned foreign governments to stay out of the protests which they deem as an internal affair and have accused some, including Britain and the United States, of fanning anti-China sentiment.


China reports 1,886 new virus cases, death toll up by 98

A woman, wearing a protective facemask amid fears over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, walks in front of an advertisement board in Bangkok on February 17, 2020 featuring attractions in Thailand. (AFP)
Updated 15 min 13 sec ago

China reports 1,886 new virus cases, death toll up by 98

  • Hundreds more have been infected and the virus has sparked panic buying, economic jitters as well as the cancellation of high-profile sporting and cultural events

BEIJING: China reported 1,886 new virus cases and 98 more deaths in its update Tuesday on a disease outbreak that has caused milder illness in most people, an assessment that promoted guarded optimism from global health authorities.
The update raised the number of deaths in mainland China to 1,868 and the total confirmed cases to 72,436.
On Monday, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a study of earlier cases of the disease, finding more than 80% of people infected had mild illness and the number of new infections seem to be falling since early this month.
Monday’s report gives the World Health Organization a clearer picture of where the outbreak is headed, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference.
But he added it was too early to know if the reported decline would continue. “Every scenario is still on the table,” he said.
The seeming drop in the number of cases follow a large spike last week after hard-hit Hubei province began counting cases by doctors’ diagnoses without waiting for laboratory test results. Health authorities there said the change was meant to get patients treated faster.
The disease named COVID-19 emerged in December in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, and the surrounding region has been put under lockdown to try to contain the outbreak. Transportation has been halted, thousands of hospital beds have been added, and military doctors and nurses have been deployed to staff facilities in the overwhelmed local health-care system.
China may postpone its annual congress in March, its biggest political meeting of the year. The standing committee for the National People’s Congress will meet Feb. 24 to deliberate postponing the meeting that is due to start March 5.
China’s annual auto show, one of the industry’s biggest international events, has been postponed, and many sports and entertainment events have been delayed or canceled to avoid travel that may spread the virus.
The Chinese CDC’s study examined 44,672 cases of the disease that were confirmed in China as of Feb. 11. Severe symptoms such as pneumonia occurred in 14% of them and critical illness in 5%. The fatality rate was 2.3% — 2.8% for males versus 1.7% for females.
The death rate is lower than for SARS and MERS, diseases caused by coronaviruses related to the one that causes COVID-19. But the new virus ultimately could prove more deadly if it spreads to far more people than the others did. Ordinary flu has a fatality rate of 0.1% yet kills hundreds of thousands because it infects millions each year.
The COVID-19 cases include relatively few children, and the risk of death rises with age. It’s higher among those with other health problems — more than 10% for those with heart disease, for example, and higher among those in Hubei province versus elsewhere in China.
The study warned that while cases seem to have been declining since Feb. 1, that could change as people return to work and school after the Lunar New Year holidays. Beijing sought to forestall that by extending the holiday break, restricting travel and demanding 14-day self-quarantines for anyone returning from outside their immediate region.
Travel to and from the worst-hit central China region was associated with the initial cases of COVID-19 confirmed abroad. But Japan, Singapore and South Korea have identified new cases without clear ties to China or previously known patients, raising concern of the virus spreading locally.
The largest number of cases outside China is among passengers and crew of the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined at a port near Tokyo. The Japanese Health Ministry has tested 1,723 people among the 3,700 initially on board, and 454 have tested positive.
The US evacuated 338 American passengers, with most of them placed in a 14-day quarantine at military bases in California and Texas. Thirteen who tested positive for the virus were taken to hospitals in California and Nebraska.
Any quarantined passengers who shows symptoms of infection will be taken to a hospital off the base “for containment and specialized care,” according to a statement from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Scott Pauley. The CDC rather than the Department of Defense is responsible for all parts of the quarantine operation.