Data, Info and News of Life and Economy

Daily Archives: February 27, 2022

The Russian Ruble Tanked, Hitting a New Record Low

Down as much as 40% to 118.6 per dollar today

Source : Trading Economics

Charts: China’s Annual Crude Oil Imports Drop for First Time in 20 Years

Source : Reuters

Sunday Humour: News in Cartoons

Hong Kong’s Covid-19 Regime Sparks Rush for Exit by Spooked Residents

Frances Yoon and Dan Strumpf wrote . . . . . . . . .

For Charles Murton, one of Hong Kong’s tens of thousands of expatriate residents, the city’s surprise decision to shut schools next month to test its 7.4 million people for Covid-19 was the last straw.

He has been drawing up plans to leave the city he immigrated to as a teenager, eyeing a move with his wife and two young children to Singapore, a perennial Hong Kong rival that continues to open its borders even as Covid-19 numbers there surge to record highs.

“The virus is something that you’ve got to live with, but that doesn’t seem to be the thought process here,” said Mr. Murton, a 41-year-old logistics executive.

For two years, Hong Kong largely shut out Covid-19 by at times banning travelers from certain high-risk countries, using lengthy quarantines for arrivals and social distancing, and isolating infected people and their close contacts—at the cost of effectively cutting off the global financial hub’s residents from the outside world. Now, after the Omicron variant punctured the city’s defenses, overwhelming hospitals and testing facilities, the city is tightening the screws in new and unpredictable ways to adhere to Beijing’s zero-Covid policy of stamping out the virus whenever it appears.

For residents frustrated by the lack of a clear pathway out of Hong Kong’s restrictions, the latest clampdown clashes with the picture in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world, where governments are dismantling the most intrusive pandemic-control measures and seeking a return to a more normal life, aided by high vaccination rates.

Hong Kong’s heavy-handed response risks turning what has been a stream of residents leaving the city into a flood. Immigration data shows nearly 69,000 more Hong Kong residents have left the city than arrived this year, with almost 80% of those leaving in February, marking the biggest monthly drain since January 2020, when the data began. It isn’t clear how many have gone for good. The latest government figures available show the city’s population shrank by more than 75,000 in mid-2021 from a year earlier.

The scurry for the exit is visible in hastily canceled doctors’ appointments, children taking online classes while on the airport shuttle and a rush to find tenants to take over apartment leases. Ticket prices have soared for the few flights out of the city, with some travel agents saying that clients are more willing to consider any plane that gets them out of Hong Kong before the new measures are implemented.

The city’s residents contend with a pandemic-control arsenal with few parallels in the West. Most nonresidents are barred from entering, and returning travelers must pay for weekslong hotel quarantines no matter their test results or vaccination status. While other economies are ditching restrictions, Hong Kong has banned gatherings of more than two people and indoor dining after 6 p.m., and shut gyms, bars, hair salons and even campsites. Starting last Thursday, the unvaccinated can no longer shop in supermarkets and malls.

Despite these measures, the city has recorded more than 126,000 cases since Dec. 31 through Saturday, about 10 times the number of infections seen in 2020 and 2021 combined.

Under pressure from Beijing to end the outbreak, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced plans to test all the city’s residents three times in March, adopting a tactic that has proved effective on the mainland in identifying every carrier of the virus in a given area and putting them in isolation or hospitals.

The government said it needs the school campuses to process the one million tests a day required to achieve that goal. Still, the unexpected decision brings forward the summer holiday, wrecking the travel plans of families and creating uncertainty over university-entrance exams for final-year students.

City authorities will also commandeer hotels and empty apartment blocks and build isolation centers to house the tens of thousands of people who are expected to test positive in the mass screening campaign.

In a stark warning of what that might mean for families, an 11-month-old baby who tested positive was separated from her parents at one of the city’s public hospitals. The Health Authority said it wasn’t possible for the parents to remain with their daughter because both of them had tested negative. While the infant is now reunited with her parents, the incident rattled many parents who fear a similar outcome from the mass screening.

Doris Chiu, who runs a travel agency, said the risks of being forced into isolation pushed her to accelerate plans to move with her 4-year-old daughter to Washington, D.C.

“I want to avoid the citywide compulsory testing,” she said.

The Hong Kong native said she had lost faith in the government’s ability to manage the pandemic. “It’s going to be a mess,” she said. “It’s going to kill the economy further because they’ve pretty much [brought] everything to a standstill.”

Businesses have long complained about the government’s handling of the pandemic, saying travel and other restrictions had made it hard to recruit and retain employees. Industry experts say the latest shift in pandemic policy will likely make matters worse, accelerating a trend that has seen the number of regional headquarters of multinationals in Hong Kong drop by 5% since 2018—a figure reduced by the arrival of more mainland Chinese companies.

Yossi Shabat, 62 years old, plans to relocate to Manila after more than three decades in Hong Kong, motivated by the Philippines’ dropping its quarantine requirement earlier this year. “I cannot manage my company business here in Southeast Asia from home using MS Teams or Zoom. The relationship with the customer is impacted,” said Mr. Shabat, who works for an Israeli-American IT company.

“Hong Kong was known to be an excellent hub,” he said. “You could fly from here to everywhere freely. The last two years, it doesn’t happen anymore. It’s easier to take off to different places of the world, from either Singapore or Manila or Bangkok.”

To be sure, the end of Hong Kong as a global financial and commercial hub has been predicted many times before.

Joe Chu, Hong Kong manager of movers Vanpac GroupAsia, said that while inquiries about relocations from expats in Hong Kong are running at about double the usual level, he has seen big outflows of both Hong Kongers and foreign residents several times, notably during the SARS epidemic in 2003 and before the 1997 handover of the former British colony to China. He has also seen people return.

Like many of those The Wall Street Journal spoke to, including Mr. Shabat and Mr. Murton, Kevin Shee said his decision to leave Hong Kong could change if the government relaxes its policies.

Mr. Shee, who runs a storage business, said he is taking his family to Singapore and Bali in March and will make a final decision on whether to abandon Hong Kong further down the line.

“If the situation doesn’t improve by next year, and the quarantine rules are still rigid, I won’t return to Hong Kong anymore and live in Singapore,” he said.

Source : Wall Street Journal

Chart: International Payments Using the Renminbi Jumped to a Record High in January 2022

Source : BNN Bloomberg

Hong Kong Is Sticking to Zero-COVID, No Matter What the Cost

Jessie Yeung wrote . . . . . . . . .

How to contain a runaway Covid outbreak, in a city committed to keeping cases at zero?

That’s the question now facing Hong Kong officials, as daily infections top over 20,000, and previous fail-safe systems begin to buckle under the strain of their own uncompromising rules.

For almost two years, Hong Kong had relied on a combination of stringent quarantines and sophisticated track-and-trace efforts to isolate positive cases, keeping the city comparatively virus-free — even as the rest of the world began to loosen restrictions.

But those measures no longer appear sufficient in the face of the latest Omicron wave, which officials have described as a “tsunami.”

Hong Kong’s insistence on sending all positive cases to hospital, irrespective of the severity, has led to at least one hospital being so overwhelmed it was forced to move patients on gurneys outside, lining them up in the parking lot.
Meanwhile, a raft of tightened restrictions and targeted lockdowns have led many experts and residents to question the sustainability of such an approach as the city enters the third year of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping took the unusual step of directly calling on Hong Kong officials to take “all necessary measures,” according to comments published on the front pages of two Chinese state-run newspapers.
Xi’s intervention has raised fears that further restrictions similar to those seen in mainland China, including a possible citywide lockdown, could soon follow.

So far, the local government has firmly ruled out such a move, suggesting it would be impractical to confine more than 7 million people to their homes. But Xi’s comments make clear that Hong Kong has little choice but to adhere to China’s hard-line zero-Covid strategy — whatever the cost.

The biggest outbreak yet

The newest wave began in January, and quickly spun out of control despite authorities’ increasingly desperate efforts.
In mid-January, the government killed more than 2,500 hamsters and other small animals after a single Covid case was linked to a pet store, sparking widespread public outrage.

Days later, a housing cluster prompted the government to lock down several buildings home to thousands of people. Soon, residents began complaining of trash piling up in the hallways, and of pay cuts for those who weren’t able to work during the lockdown.

In hindsight, it was an early sign of the chaos to come, and of a government unequipped for a wave of this magnitude despite having had more than two years to prepare.

To date, less than 70% of the city’s population has been fully vaccinated against Covid, according to government data, and vaccination rates among the elderly remain comparatively low despite vaccines being available since February 2021.

With numbers rising, authorities reimposed a series of familiar restrictions: closing all schools; shuttering bars, gyms, salons and numerous public spaces; suspending restaurant dine-in past 6 p.m., capping public gatherings; doubling down on a citywide mask mandate; and prohibiting more than two households to mix in private.

But these measures — part of the government’s zero-Covid playbook each time a new outbreak arises — failed to stop the surge. On February 27, the city reported a record 25,026 new cases. Before this wave, Hong Kong had never seen more than 200 new cases in a day.

Many of the government’s rules were formed with the zero-Covid goal in mind, such as hospitalization for all those who test positive for Covid — regardless of their condition — mandatory tests for anybody who may have been exposed, and quarantine of close contacts.

These rules and processes may have worked when Hong Kong was only dealing with a few dozen cases at a time — but the scale of the latest outbreak has stretched the system to breaking point.

As of Monday evening, seven of Hong Kong’s 17 public hospitals had either reached or exceeded 100% inpatient bed occupancy — leading to the makeshift outdoor wards, which could pose a problem this weekend with rain and cold temperatures expected. Long lines stretch across the city, with people waiting hours to get tested.

But rather than consider different approaches, the government — under pressure from Beijing — has dug its heels in, more determined than ever to contain the outbreak.

“At this moment, we still feel that (dynamic zero-Covid) is the best strategy for Hong Kong,” the city’s leader Carrie Lam said last week — referring to a new label that aims to quickly suppress all outbreaks.

Even before Xi’s reported instructions, the Chinese central government stepped in earlier this week — seemingly growing impatient with Hong Kong’s inability to rein in the virus itself.

China will send health experts and medical supplies to Hong Kong, and help build new quarantine and isolation facilities, officials said — bringing to mind the temporary hospitals that were constructed and operational within weeks in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic, at the start of it all.

Lam has publicly welcomed the central government’s support, admitting Tuesday that Hong Kong was struggling to cope with the exponential growth of cases. “The problem we are facing is, given the magnitude, pace and severity of this fifth wave, it has outgrown our capacity,” she said.

A widening gap

Though Hong Kong has been aligned with Beijing in pursuing zero-Covid, it could have taken a different route — one now playing out in a very similar city, 1,600 miles (about 2,600 kilometers) away.

Last August, Singapore — which for years has competed with Hong Kong for the title of Asia’s top international business hub — was the first Asian country to declare it was moving away from a zero-Covid policy to living with the virus instead. It was soon followed by Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and others.

The mood in Singapore is now drastically different than in Hong Kong. A high vaccination rate and reopened travel with two dozen countries mean daily life has more or less resumed. Though cases there are spiking as well, people are able to go to the movies, meet friends at the bar, even attend sports events and live concerts.

The few restrictions left — like caps on social gatherings — may soon be lifted too when the Omicron wave subsides, the health minister said Monday. “Like most Singaporeans, I am looking forward to it,” he added.

But there is little of that optimism in Hong Kong, with leaders defiant even as the city’s tough travel restrictions render it increasingly isolated from the world.

“With the full support of the central (Chinese) government, the government’s united effort, and citizens’ full support, we have to fight against this wave of the virus,” Lam said on Tuesday. “Surrendering to the virus is not an option.”

Source : CNN

Is Canada Becoming North America’s Cuba?

Dennis Prager wrote . . . . . . . . .

Canada is leaving the Western world.

In terms of all-encompassing government, suppression of dissent and the denial of fundamental human rights to many of its citizens, Canada is now more similar to Cuba than to any free country. Canada may eventually return to Western civilization, but as of this writing, the majority of Canadians appear to have no interest in it doing so. According to Maru Public Opinion, “two-thirds (66 percent) of Canadians support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bringing in the Emergencies Act …. A majority (56 percent) of Canadians do not support the truckers who are protesting in any way, shape, or form …. This is a majority view held in every province/region across the country.”

I suspect that most Americans—and certainly most people outside of America or Canada—do not know precisely what Canada’s Marxist prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is doing to his country.

So, allow me to review.

Last week, for only the second time in Canadian history other than wartime—the first time was under Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, the other Marxist to govern Canada—Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act. This statute enables a Canadian prime minister to suspend fundamental human rights and rule as a dictator.

The CBC described in detail how Trudeau is using the Emergencies Act to destroy the lives of Canadian dissidents. This should be read carefully. Such policies have never been enacted by a Western country against its own citizens (with the extremely rare exceptions of those actively engaged in terrorism):

“Using powers granted under the Emergencies Act, the federal government has directed banks and other financial institutions to stop doing business with people associated with the anti-vaccine mandate convoy occupying the nation’s capital.

“The government’s new directive, called the ‘emergency economic measures order,’ goes beyond asking banks to simply stop transferring funds to protest organizers. The government wants banks to stop doing business with some people altogether.

“The order says that banks and other financial entities (like credit unions, co-ops, loan companies, trusts and cryptocurrency platforms) must stop ‘providing any financial or related services’ to people associated with the protests—a move that will result in frozen accounts, stranded money and cancelled credit cards.

“The Emergencies Act gives authorities the power to freeze the finances of those connected to blockades and protests, and the consequences could last long after the demonstrations end …

“The regulation’s definition of a ‘designated person’ also includes … anyone sending funds to support these protests …

“Mark Blumberg is a lawyer at Blumberg Segal LLP who specializes in non-profit and charity law. In an interview, he said that while the Emergencies Act gives banks time-limited powers, these institutions ‘may just decide to shut the person’s account down’ because there could be ‘huge risks’ for banks servicing these customers in the future. Banks will be working with law enforcement to decide who should be ‘de-banked.’

“A senior government official said … police could gather the names and license plate numbers of people participating in a protest or an unlawful assembly and share that information with FINTRAC (Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada) …

“Former CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) senior strategic analyst Jessica Davis (said) ‘the people who are participating in the protest aren’t going to be able to do things like pay bills, pay their hotel bills. They will eventually run out of supplies as well …

“With access to bank accounts and credit cards and other financial instruments suspended, protesters won’t be able to pay for things like hotel and fuel bills …

“Over the longer term, Davis said, it may be hard for some of the truckers participating to ever find work again because they could lack the necessary insurance to operate a big rig. ‘Paying bills, paying rent and any kind of day-to-day financial transaction can be stopped for people who are part of the protest movement,’ she said. There may also be some ‘unintended consequences’ from frozen accounts, such as suspended alimony and child support payments, Davis said. ‘It’s going to be very difficult for them.’

“Banks have been granted immunity against legal action in the event of disputes over whether someone should have been denied financial services. ‘No proceedings under the Emergencies Act and no civil proceedings lie against an entity for complying with this Order,’ the regulations read.”

None of these life-ruining, due-process defying measures is necessary. The truckers’ demonstrations could have been ended by arresting drivers who would not move their trucks or simply just towing their trucks. The purpose of these regulations is to destroy dissenters and deter future dissent. In a word, it is to ruin the lives of those who disobey Justin Trudeau.

As one who has followed Canadian life over the decades—I have lectured in nine of Canada’s 10 provinces—the moral descent of Canada is depressing but not especially surprising. Since I was in college in the 1970s, I traveled abroad every year of my life except in 2020—to some 130 countries. I not only took interest in the countries I visited but in the tourists who visited them. I recall well that when I was young, many young Canadians stitched a Canadian flag onto their backpacks. As almost no tourists from other nations did that, I asked Canadians why they did. Their reason was to identify themselves as Canadian rather than as American.

I am not the first observer of Canadians to note that a major part of Canadian identity—especially among Canadian elites—is being a not-American. Many Canadians were and remain first and foremost not-Americans. Other than that, not much defines Canadians. And when a nation stands essentially for nothing, bad things eventually happen—because nothingness is eventually filled or replaced by bad.

On my radio show, I once asked the late Charles Krauthammer, one of the most insightful commentators of this era, what he saw as the greatest difference between his native Canada and his adopted country, the United States. Without hesitation, he said that in America the national motto is “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” and in Canada it is “Peace, Order, and Good Government.”

The first inspires a nation. The second doesn’t.

Upon the death of Fidel Castro, Justin Trudeau gave the most positive assessment of the Cuban tyrant of any Western leader. It is worth quoting in full because it demonstrates Trudeau’s affection for communism and because Trudeau is transforming Canada into Cuba:

“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President. Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante.’

“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honor to meet his three sons and his brother, President Raul Castro, during my recent visit to Cuba.

“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”

There does remain one major difference between Canada and Cuba. Few Cubans support their Marxist leaders, but most Canadians support theirs. They don’t know what they’re in for.

Source : Epoch Times