Hong Kong’s economy is recovering, but its freedoms are not
HONG KONG (AP) — Like most people in Hong Kong, taxi driver Leung Tat-chong says it feels like the city is recovering after years of protests, crackdowns and pandemic restrictions, while it also has changed forever.
He’s earning almost as much as he did before the pandemic. But, Leung said, the city has been divided since the 2019 protests, in which hundreds of thousands of people marched, and many battled police, in opposition to a government they saw as a proxy for Beijing.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the city welcomed more than 2 million visitors in the month of March. Crowds of art collectors and dealers spilled across two floors of a convention center at the Art Basel Hong Kong fair in late March. Excited chatter returned to a dim sum shop at the high-speed rail terminus.
Yet Leung sometimes doesn’t turn on the radio in his cab because the news or a public affairs program could get his customers cursing. A supporter of the government, he watches what he says in front of friends to avoid starting fights.
Living in Hong Kong today means juggling contradictory feelings. In 20 interviews, many said that when they focus on business indicators and everyday life, they see a recovery gathering pace after years of travel restrictions. But when it comes to anything political, the openness and freedoms that were once hallmarks of the Chinese-ruled former British colony seem permanently gone.
Following the 2019 protests, Beijing declared “patriots must run Hong Kong,” increasing its loyalists’ control over elections and imposing a National Security Law that criminalized many forms of dissent. The government of Hong Kong used that law to arrest former opposition lawmakers and activists who participated in an unofficial primary election.
Hong Kong’s government says things are back to normal, a message delivered in a tourism-promotion campaign it calls “Hello Hong Kong.”
Economic indicators seem to support that message: retails sales are up, the country’s GDP is growing and unemployment is a low 3.1%. In the first quarter of the year, the city received 4.41 million visitors, about 12 times more than the previous quarter, and about 30% of pre-pandemic levels.
Mak Kwai-pui, co-founder of dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan, said his business is reaping some of the benefits. Foreign tourists are filling his restaurants, something he had not seen in three years, helping drive revenue to more than 80% of pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s really coming back. It’s true,” he said.
Anne Kerr, the chair of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said more U.K. firms are inquiring about setting up shop in Hong Kong.
A survey by The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong in the first two months of 2023 showed its members are “cautiously optimistic” about business. Among those with headquarters in Hong Kong, 61% planned to remain for the next three years, up from 48% last year. But 9% plan to move, compared to 5% last year.
Local artist Wong Ka-ying said cultural life is recovering, too. At Art Basel, she saw a rise in emerging artists, independent art spaces and cultural activities, offering her more exposure and opportunities.
But, she said, even at the glamorous art fair, she felt the chill of the National Security Law. The art felt tamer than in past years and overtly political art was rare. At the Chinese University of Hong Kong where she teaches, she advises her students to plan their work cautiously.
“Maybe it looks the same on the surface. But when you look with a magnifying glass, you’ll see the essence isn’t the same,” the 32-year-old said.
When Cyrus Chan decided to organize a protest against a proposal on land reclamation and building waste-processing facilities in March, the changes were not subtle.
Hong Kong used to have a vibrant tradition of street politics, from massive marches to local issues. But Cyrus Chan, one of the march organizers, said police told organizers that they could have just 100 people. Participants were warned against wearing all black, as many protesters did during the 2019 protests. They also discussed their slogans with police in advance.
Even with official approval, it was a nerve-wracking experience, Chan said. For a week before the march, he checked news reports, online forums and social media hourly to see if anything had changed.
On the day, attendees were required to wear numbered badges around their necks and had to walk within a moving cordoned-off zone.
After the protest, Chan said he still could not let his guard down. On April 2, security minister Chris Tang said “some people” who likened the numbered tags to dog leashes or the armbands Nazis forced upon Jews were stirring hatred against the government — a red flag to many activists under the sedition law. Chan had previously made the Nazi analogy on a radio show.
“Those who say the city will go back to the old days … are lying. Everyone knows it’s impossible,” Chan said.
Weeks later, a former leader of a now-disbanded pro-democracy union withdrew his plan to hold a Labor Day march, his co-applicant said Wednesday. The National Security Law prevented disclosure of further details, he told the applicant.
Leung, the taxi driver, agreed that there’s a part of Hong Kong will never come back. But life must go on.
“As an ordinary person, I can’t do anything about politics,” he said. “I will just keep living my simple and unadorned life.”
Manufacturers Blues: Staffing Not a Problem, But their Inadequate.
We have been experiencing staffing problems for some time. Finding skilled workers within the manufacturing sector has been challenging but these past 2 years most difficult, not because there are no workers being interviewed, but because there are many showing up for their interviews and testing. The interviews go well, with their enthusiasm showing. We appreciate that a lot. But when they do their actual testing it’s another story.
Initial Interview usually goes without a hitch.
Testing shows us their capabilities and possible potential should we be willing to train them further.
We test these individuals as welders, sheet metal workers, press brake operators, plastics, and millwork specialists.
The problem we face is threefold. 1st off they have no real experience like they just graduated from welding school. We ask them to weld their name onto a plate, which is easily done if you have the experience. Many burn through the heavy plates or handle the equipment not very well. The secondary problem is their extensive demands from private washrooms, when they are willing to work(not our scheduled period), excessive wages far beyond the average wage. Over time employment is haphazard at best, nonexistent as they refuse. They even want schooling in the trade, while letting it be known that the wage they receive will always limit their loyalty to the firm. A buck or two elsewhere and bye, bye. The third problem is that most want to unionize, and have been told to demand the most up front even though they have not proven themselves worthy of advanced pay. For most private firms unionizing will kill the firm, with excessive costs dragging down any form of profitability. We have 15-25 laborers at a time with the option of doubling that when business gets busy usually in spring-summer-fall.
Strange things that happen are the employees showing up with a six-pack of beer, taking 1-2 hour lunches, and often going to management asking for wage advances even when they have not been with us but for a few weeks. The provincial and federal government agencies who have these individuals trained seem to be the people indoctrinating the workers with unrealistic expectations and demand formulas.
There are many choice employee’s out there, but their wage/salary demands remain extremely high for an industry that is just surviving in North America. The pandemic and people leaving their jobs to become self-employed or simply home bodies until they find that perfect job with a perfect wage have driven up our costs drastically, and all the while we are trying to compete with foreign exporters.
Our Provincial and Federal Governments seem unwilling to assist us in finding excellent experienced employees, instead having people trained in the basics, and relying upon private industry to train these people, who will in a short matter of time leave us and go to someone else who will pay them more. The expense, time, and effort of our firm run at a loss when we train someone, but this gamble pays off occasionally. Our governments are staffed by unionized personnel, who will push unionization onto anyone they come in contact with. Not neutral, or objective, but actual union recruiters and propagandists.
Our firm has looked at moving to friendlier regions down south, but the nationalist within us persists in our Canadian Financial Adventure in Ontario.
The FDA says people are confusing poppers with energy shots, and dying. Experts want proof
It’s not unusual for the packaging of one product to resemble that of another, potentially leading to mix-ups. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned people who drink energy shots to make sure they’re not accidentally chugging a bottle of poppers — or they might end up sick or dead.
“Don’t be fooled. These poppers, often purchased online or in novelty stores, are unapproved products and should not be inhaled or ingested, regardless of how they are packaged, labelled or displayed,” the FDA notes in its online warning shared in recent social media posts.
But those who work in LGBTQ sexual health say the FDA’s warning that people are confusing poppers with energy shots, with sometimes dire consequences, may actually be doing more of a disservice.
Such messaging “borders on inflammatory” and may contribute to the “the stigmatization of the product [and] the stigmatization of the person who’s using poppers,” said Rod Knight, an associate professor at the at Université de Montréal’s School of Public Health, who has also conducted research on poppers.
Poppers are a chemical substance that belongs to a class of drugs known as alkyl nitrates. When they’re inhaled as vapour, from a small liquid-filled bottle wrapped in a colourful plastic label, the user can almost instantly get the short-lasting, light-headed sensation of a head rush, Knight explained.
He explained they also relax the sphincter muscle of the anus, making receptive anal sex more comfortable for some people. Poppers have been popular among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men for decades.
A single mistake can prove fatal. We continue to receive reports of people dying or being severely injured after consuming poppers that resemble, and often mistaken for, popular energy shots. Drinking or inhaling poppers seriously jeopardizes your health. <a href=”https://t.co/fojEcP7J9z”>https://t.co/fojEcP7J9z</a> <a href=”https://t.co/LJlPAnbfOY”>pic.twitter.com/LJlPAnbfOY</a>
Knight acknowledges that there are sometimes side effects, which may include nausea, headaches, reduced blood pressure — alkyl nitrates are vasodilators, meaning they open blood vessels — and even vision issues. But he suggested such side effects “can be remedied through change of usage patterns.”
According to the FDA’s website, they are usually purchased in sex shops or online — often labelled as other products such as leather cleaner or deodorizers — even though the agency recommends against using them. Alkyl nitrates as poppers are unauthorized in Canada and Health Canada has cracked down on the sale of them since 2013, though they’re not necessarily illegal to purchase, possess or consume.
Does the FDA claim pass the sniff test?
Energy shots are flavoured beverages containing some amount of caffeine, and vitamins or other natural substances that purportedly boost your energy, like ginseng or ginkgo biloba. They’re sold in small bottles with colourful plastic labels. They’re commonly found at convenience stores, supermarkets or bought online.
If by some chance you had both products side-by-side and didn’t realize your mistake by the time you peeled off the plastic and cracked open the bottle, the distinct smell of poppers should be a red flag, explained Adam Awad, the communications manager for the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance in Toronto.
“If you’re about to drink a 5-Hour Energy drink [a popular energy shot brand] and it smells like nail polish remover, you know, maybe you should ask yourself some questions before touching it to your lips,” he said.
Awad said he isn’t aware of any cases of people dying from a poppers-related mishap like the FDA described — a claim the agency previously made in 2021 — but he said he “would be very keen to see any evidence that they’ve got or reports on the actual number of cases.”
CBC News reached out to the FDA for data on injuries or death related to the accidental oral ingestion of poppers and an explanation for the social media warning, but did not receive a response.
In 2012, however, the agency stated that it was investigating 13 deaths and 33 hospitalizations related to the consumption of 5-Hour Energy drinks.
But if serious or fatal mix-ups with poppers and energy shots are happening, it would certainly be a dangerous situation, said Knight. He said he’s curious to know in what context such a serious mistake might have happened and whether there were other contributing factors to these incidents.
There is also a flip side to poppers, Knight said, that health agencies like the FDA and Health Canada do not mention in their cautionary messaging.
“This drug is being used by gay and queer men for very therapeutic reasons,” Knight said. “[Poppers] can prevent muscle spasm and injury during receptive anal intercourse.”
The Early Edition7:57We discuss what ‘poppers’ are, and the ban of them in Canada
Should Canada ease its restrictions on poppers?
Health Canada states alkyl nitrites can only be used when prescribed by a doctor, but there are currently no approved products sold as poppers. In a statement to CBC News, the agency said “there have been no submissions filed by any company [or] manufacturers for authorization of a popper product.”
Knight said it would be difficult and unlikely for many producers to go through the clinical trials and regulatory processes needed to get approval for prescription use and, even if that did happen, it would only create other barriers to accessing the drug.
“This drug is not really well known among a lot of clinicians, except for those who specialize in sexual health,” he said.
He said the current restriction has done little to prevent people from acquiring poppers one way or another, whether it’s ordering them online, buying them over the border in the U.S. or procuring them by some other means.
He noted a survey from the Community-Based Research Centre that showed only a slight drop in the percentage of people using poppers, after the ban on sales, and had little effect on regular use.
“If this was a drug that was being used among, for example, straight guys at a rate of 30 per cent of straight guys across Canada, there would be a very different approach to how the drug would be treated,” he said.
He believes the restriction has done more harm than good, pushing poppers into a form of “illicit market,” making it unclear what ingredients they may contain because manufacturers aren’t “incentivized” to label their products with accurate health information.
There is also the possibility poppers may be packaged in a way that resembles other products in order to “disguise them” because of the restriction, added Awad, potentially setting up that very mixup scenario.
Why are mosquitoes so bad in 2023?
They’re thirsty bloodsuckers that annoy those who cross into nature, feasting on their salty life source while leaving behind red, itchy bumps.
And this year across Canada, it seems the pesky insects are worse than ever.
Those who’ve wondered about an increase in mosquitoes may be right, according to Laura Ferguson, assistant professor of biology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.
“It’s definitely been a trend to some extent that people are noticing anecdotally,” she told CTVNews.ca in an interview on Friday. “New Brunswick, in particular, over the last couple of years, has noticed big bursts in mosquito populations, especially in this mid- to late spring.”
Why mosquitoes may be worse than normal in some areas has more than one answer.
WHY MOSQUITOES ARE SO BAD THIS YEAR
Ferguson works with a team to study mosquitoes, understand the different species and track their abundance across North America.
“It’s for a few different reasons why we’re seeing more mosquitoes than we may have at least in the past couple of decades or so,” she said.
The first contributing reason is that there are more species of mosquitoes than in years past.
Different species travel with human goods across the world. They then breed in their new homes, creating populations of specific types of mosquitoes where they’d never existed before.
“Here in Nova Scotia for instance, we didn’t have a (species) a couple of decades ago — it came over from Japan in tire, we think — and it’s just exploded across the province and you can find it anywhere now,” Ferguson said.
Additionally, Ferguson said, warmer winters caused by climate change allow mosquitoes that would die off in the winter to survive and continue reproducing.
Along with being able to survive the milder weather, some types of mosquitoes are able to reproducer faster in warm temperatures because of the type of insect they are. Ferguson says mosquitoes are ectotherms, meaning their regulation of body temperature depends on external sources like the sun.
Precipitation also plays a factor in how well mosquitoes can survive, because they lay eggs in stagnant water.
Ferguson said if it’s a particularly dry spring there may be fewer mosquitoes around, depending on the species. Others lay eggs in the fall, so there would only be a large drop in mosquitoes if the previous year was dry.
Another theory that needs more research, Ferguson said, is the waning effects of the chemical Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), which was used in the past to control insects in crops, but was phased out in the 1970s due to its harm on other species.
Despite this, the chemical can still be found in water and is circulating in ecosystems.
“Those kinds of holdover effects from these really persistent insecticides may have also suppressed mosquito populations for a few decades,” she said. “And now we’re experiencing a bit of this rebound of these populations as these insecticides and their effects start to wear away in the environment.”
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT MOSQUITOES?
Unfortunately, all these factors lead to an increase in mosquitoes, a problem without fast solutions.
“I think for the most part, what we need to do is just figure out the ways to protect ourselves from contact with mosquitoes because they are a part of the ecosystem,” Ferguson said.
“On a regular basis it’s going to be things like hanging out in a screened porch instead of right outside, making sure that you dump standing water anywhere in your yard.”
Using repellents like DEET and some natural oils can help when out in the woods, Ferguson said.
“Wear light colours, long sleeves, those kinds of things to reduce the area of your body that’s exposed to potential bites,” Ferguson said. “That kind of thing is sort of our best bet of that trying to sort of prevent our contact with them as much as possible.”
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