BBC News Singapore
How to spot US election disinformation - BBC News
With less than a month until Americans go to the polls, here's how to identify political disinformation and foreign interference on your social media feed.
With less than a month until Americans go to the polls, here's how to identify political disinformation and foreign interference on your social media feed. This video has been optimised for mobile viewing on the BBC News app. The BBC News app is available from the Apple App Store for iPhone and Google Play Store for Android.
Planet Mars is at its 'biggest and brightest' - BBC News
The Red Planet is unmissable in the night sky right now as its orbit aligns with Earth's.
By Jonathan AmosBBC Science Correspondent image copyrightdamianpeach.com image captionIn all its glory: Mars pictured by Damian Peach on 30 September Get out there and look up! Mars is at its biggest and brightest right now as the Red Planet lines up with Earth on the same side of the Sun. Every 26 months, the pair take up this arrangement, moving close together, before then diverging again on their separate orbits around our star. Tuesday night sees the actual moment of what astronomers call "opposition". All three bodies will be in a straight line at 23:20 GMT (00:20 BST). "But you don't have to wait until the middle of the night; even now, at nine or 10 o'clock in the evening, you'll easily see it over in the southeast," says astrophotographer, Damian Peach. "You can't miss it, it's the brightest star-like object in that part of the sky," he told BBC News. Even though this coming week witnesses the moment of opposition, it was Tuesday of last week that Mars and Earth actually made their closest approach in this 26-month cycle. A separation of 62,069,570km, or 38,568,243 miles. That's the narrowest gap now until 2035. At the last opposition, in 2018, Earth and Mars were just 58 million km apart, but what makes this occasion a little more special for astrophotographers in the Northern Hemisphere is the Red Planet's elevation in the sky. It's higher, and that means telescopes don't have to look through quite so much of the Earth's turbulent atmosphere, which distorts images. Experienced practitioners like Damian use a technique called "lucky imaging" to get the perfect shot. They take multiple frames and then use software to stitch together the sharpest view. Damian's picture at the top of this page shows up clearly the "Martian dichotomy" - the sharp contrast between the smooth lowland plains of the Northern Hemisphere and the more rugged terrain in the Southern Hemisphere. Evident too is Mars' carbon dioxide ice cap at the southern pole. The image was captured using a 14-inch Celestron telescope. "That's quite a serious bit of equipment; it's not something you get on a whim," says Damian. "But even a telescope half that size will show up all the major features on Mars quite easily. And if you've got a good pair of binoculars, you'll certainly be able to make out that it's actually a planet and not a star." It's around opposition that space probes are launched from Earth to Mars. Obviously - the distance that needs to be travelled is shorter, and the time and energy required to make the journey is less. Three missions are currently in transit, all of which were sent on their way in July: The United Arab Emirates's Hope orbiter; China's Tianwen orbiter and rover; and the Americans' Perseverance rover. Europe and Russia had hoped to despatch their ExoMars "Rosalind Franklin" rover, too, but they missed the launch window and will now have to wait until late 2022. That's the penalty you pay when the planets align only every 26 months. Hope, Tianwen and Perseverance are all on course to arrive at Mars in February. In 2003, Mars made its closest approach to Earth around opposition in nearly 60,000 years - a separation of just 56 million km. The distance between the two at opposition can be over 100 million km, as happened in 2012. The variation is a consequence of the elliptical shape of the orbits of both Mars and Earth. [email protected] and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos
Singapore offers 'pandemic baby bonus' to boost births - BBC News
The country, which has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, is paying parents to have babies.
Image copyrightGetty Images Singapore is offering a one-off payment to encourage people to have babies during the coronavirus pandemic. The worry is that citizens are putting off parenthood as they struggle with financial stress and job layoffs. Details of the amount that could be paid have yet to be released. It is in addition to several hefty baby bonuses offered by the government. Singapore has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, which it has struggled to boost for decades. It is in stark contrast to some of its neighbours such as Indonesia and the Philippines, which are facing the prospect of a massive spike in pregnancies from their coronavirus lockdowns. "We have received feedback that Covid-19 has caused some aspiring parents to postpone their parenthood plans," Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Monday. Mr Heng said more details about amounts and how they will be paid would be announced at a later date. Singapore's current baby bonus system provides eligible parents up to S$10,000 ($7,330, £5,644) in benefits. Singapore's fertility rate touched an eight-year low in 2018, according to government data, at a rate of 1.14 births per woman. Many Asian countries face a similar issue of falling fertility rates, which could worsen during the pandemic downturn. Earlier this year, China's birth rate fell to its lowest since the formation of the People's Republic of China 70 years ago. This came despite the easing of the much criticised one-child policy. But some of Singapore's neighbours face the opposite problem. In the Philippines, unintended pregnancies are forecast to spike by almost half to 2.6 million if Covid 19-induced movement restrictions remain until year-end, according to the United Nations Population Fund. "These numbers are an epidemic in itself," Aimee Santos, a spokesperson for UN agency in the Philippines, said last month. The Philippines has the second-highest population in South East Asia at 108.4 million. It has one of the region's worst virus outbreaks with more than 307,000 infections. "These issues of women and children have largely remained invisible during the pandemic. It's time to put them front and centre," Senator Risa Hontiveros, head of the chamber's committee on women, said last month. She has backed calls for more female officials in the nation's task force against the coronavirus outbreak.
Covid-19 Singapore: A ‘pandemic of inequality’ exposed - BBC News
Life has returned to normal for many in Singapore, but one group of people still remain in lockdown.
Zakir Hossain Khokan has just about had enough. It's been weeks since he was last allowed out of the room he shares with 11 others. The room is bare, except for six metal-framed bunk beds. Clothes and the odd towel hang in front of the beds, providing some semblance of privacy. "Day and night, we are just inside one room," he says. "It's actually torturing our mind. It's like jail." "Then we can't social distance because there's no space." Having already caught Covid-19, recovered, and gone back to work, Zakir thought his worst days were behind him. His dormitory was declared cleared of the virus in June. But last month a new cluster developed at the dorm, and like thousands of migrant workers, he was ordered back into quarantine. Once lauded for its containment of the virus, Singapore's success crumbled when the virus reached its many foreign worker dormitories, something activists say should have been seen coming a mile off. Now months on, Singapore is reporting single figure daily cases in the local community. People are going back to work, cinemas have reopened and laughter can be heard coming out of restaurants again. But many of Singapore's lowest earners remain indoors, facing uncertainty. The men who built the city Singapore saw its first imported virus cases in late January - weeks later, it had more than 100 cases. A huge contact tracing programme began and a national coronavirus-tracing app was rolled out. Public cautions were increased and clearly communicated. Harvard epidemiologists called Singapore's system the "gold standard of near perfect detection". But there was a crisis building, unseen by most of the population. Singapore is home to more than 300,000 low-wage foreign workers from countries like India and Bangladesh, who mainly work in industries like construction and manufacturing. Their right to live in Singapore is tied to their job and their employer must provide accommodation, at a cost. They commute from their dorms in packed vans to building sites where they work and take breaks alongside men from other crowded dorms - perfect conditions for the virus to spread. Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Singapore's foreign workers often work in labour-intensive industries With no legal maximum occupancy rules, in pre-Covid times it was normal for up to 20 men to share a room in a dorm. In late March, migrant rights group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) warned that the "risk of a new cluster among this group remains undeniable". Weeks after a partial national lockdown largely brought the situation among the general public under control, the activists' predictions came true. Hundreds of new migrant worker cases were being discovered each day. Since mid-April, the government has released two distinct daily figures - the cases amongst the local community and the cases in the dormitories. The statistics show the stark contrast between the high number of cases in the dorms and the number of cases in the community, which are so low they barely register in the graph below. "Covid-19, much like any other pandemic, is a pandemic of inequality," Mohan Dutta, professor of Communication at Massey University, told the BBC. "How we communicate it - like the idea of reporting two different numbers in Singapore [these] make the inequalities even more evident. One might even go so far as to say its [an example of] 'othering'." Locked in The authorities decided that the dormitories would have to be sealed off. Around 10,000 healthy migrant workers in essential services were taken out to other accommodation - a skeleton staff to keep the country running. But the majority were trapped in the dorms - some not even allowed to leave their rooms - while mass testing was carried out. Infected workers were gradually removed, isolated and treated. It was a remarkably different experience to the lockdown the rest of the country was going through, with shopping allowed, daily exercise encouraged and every type of outlet offering delivery. These people were well and truly locked down, with only basic meals delivered to them. "Once the lockdown was in place, we were not allowed to come out of the room. We were not allowed to go next door too," Vaithyanathan Raja, from southern India, told the BBC. Image copyrightSuppliedImage caption A typical curry meal provided to a migrant worker The turn of events forced many in Singapore to confront the living conditions of many of these migrant workers - the sudden attention, coupled with new hygiene measures, saw a surge of charitable collections, and many dorm operators working to improve conditions. Mahalingam Vetriselvan, a 51-year-old worker from India, says facilities in his dorm had been ok, but that tightly packed bunks have now been replaced with single beds, placed at a "good amount of distance". Another foreign worker sent similar pictures of his dorm being re-arranged, and said the number of beds had gone from 15 to eight. Image copyrightSuppliedImage caption One migrant worker said his beds were changed from a double decker (L) to a single bed (R) Another worker told the BBC he was lucky to be moved into a hotel by his employer. But this wasn't the case for Zakir, who comes from Bangladesh and works as a project co-ordinator in construction. After being hospitalised with Covid-19, he recuperated in temporary accommodation before finally being taken back to his dorm. "I left the dormitory on 17 April, and when I came back on 9 July, I didn't see any improvements," he said. According to Zakir, his room - which measures around 6m by 7m - is shared by up to 12 men. Image copyrightSuppliedImage caption Picture of a dormitory bedroom "They say we should social distance, but to us, that's a joke you know," said Zakir. "How do we have space to distance inside the small room?" Each floor is home to 15 such rooms - or up to 180 men assuming each room is fully filled. They share one toilet facility, with six basins, shower cubicles, toilets and urinals, says Zakir. Government guidelines state there should be 15 beds to one toilet, shower and sink. Image copyrightSuppliedImage caption This is one half of the bathroom that is shared by up to 180 men "They ask us to keep clean but inside the soap dispenser there's no soap," said Zakir. The BBC has reached out to the dormitory operator for comment but has not heard back. According to Dipa Swaminathan, the founder of migrant rights group Its Raining Raincoats, such conditions have long been the norm for many workers. "The things we're talking about now - their dorms, their food - these things have been around for years," she told BBC News. "The reason why we don't hear about it is because they're not the complaining kind. They have a deep sense of gratitude for what they have here [in Singapore]. If they do feel any level of stress, they've really reached a breaking point." There are grim stories of the strain the pandemic has put on the workers. There were several reports of attempted suicides, deaths or self harm. One widely circulated video - which could not be independently verified - showed a worker standing at what appeared to be a window ledge of a dormitory - before being pulled in by his flatmates. "I see some people from my dormitory, they call their family and say they cannot take the situation," said Zakir, who himself runs a charity for migrant workers. "They cry and say they want to go home." Salary issues also contribute to some of this mental stress, with families at home relying on the workers' wages. "We can't send money because we can't go outside," said Zakir, who adds that some others have not been paid their usual salary. The Ministry of Manpower told the BBC that all foreign workers who work full-time must be paid their prevailing salaries, but that for those who could not work, it would be "unrealistic to impose a uniform requirement across all employers". Instead, employers should "engage and mutually agree... on appropriate salary arrangements". A post-mortem Singapore has since pledged to further improve conditions for migrant workers - the government says that by the end of 2020, each resident will be giving a living space of at least 6sqm/person. Each room can be allocated a maximum of 10 beds - all of which have to be spaced out by at least 1m. The question now being asked is how the situation was allowed to get so bad in the dorms when, as Prof Dutta said, "many organisations already pointed to basic problems before the pandemic hit". Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has admitted that the government's response to the threat to dorms was "not without shortcomings" but that "communal living in any form poses risks". "We stepped up precautions. For a time, these seemed adequate. But then bigger clusters broke out in the dorms, which threatened to overwhelm us," he said in an address to parliament earlier this month, shortly after winning an election in which the migrant issue was only a minor talking point. Though he conceded that missteps were taken, he ended by saying: "In the fog of war, it is not possible always to make the perfect decisions." Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption A dormitory located on the outskirts of Singapore Last month, the government declared that all workers living in dormitories had recovered or were tested to be Covid-19 free. But just weeks later - new virus clusters have emerged in a handful of dormitories again. Zakir doesn't know when he will be released. His greatest hope now he says, is to just be able to go back to work, and for things to improve for migrant workers in Singapore. "Many of us have spent a long time here. For me, I have been here 17 years - it's like we are already part of Singapore," he said. "We are not asking to be treated like a citizen. Just treat us like you would treat a human being - like we are a part of society. If it could be like that, that would be very nice." Additional reporting by Krithiika Kannan, graphics by South Asia Visual Journalism
Singapore becomes hub for Chinese tech amid US tensions - BBC News
Technology firms Tencent and Alibaba are among those expanding operations amid US-China tensions.
Image copyrightGetty Images Some of China's biggest technology firms are expanding operations in Singapore as tensions rise between Washington and Beijing. Tencent and Alibaba are increasing their presence in the city state while TikTok owner ByteDance is reported to be investing billions of dollars. Considered neutral territory, Singapore has good ties to both the US and China. Relations between Washington and Beijing are growing increasingly hostile, particularly over technology. Tencent announced this week it was "expanding its business presence in Singapore to support our growing business in South East Asia and beyond". The new regional office is described as a "strategic addition" to its current offices in South East Asia. Tencent's WeChat messaging app is facing a ban this month in the US, along with TikTok, under the Trump administration's clampdown on Chinese apps and tech firms. Donald Trump has already imposed bans on Chinese telecoms firm Huawei. "Given the US-China tensions in tech and the heightening risk of decoupling, it makes sense for Chinese tech companies to separate operations in China and outside of China," said Tommy Wu at Oxford Economics. "Singapore would be an ideal location given the city state's comparative advantage in tech, its geographic proximity to China and as an innovation hub in South East Asia." Singapore has always been seen as a regional base for Western firms because of its advanced financial and legal system. Now it's firmly on the radar of Chinese companies. The political turmoil in Hong Kong and the introduction of China's controversial national security law has seen many firms look for a more stable business environment within Asia. Masking China But there is another reason why Singapore is so attractive to China, according to Nick Redfearn, deputy chief executive at UK-based consultancy Rouse. It could explain why the city state has attracted so much foreign direct investment (FDI) compared to other South East Asia countries he said. "This is usually because regional headquarters, operating on behalf of parent companies, act as the foreign investor in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and elsewhere. "This can help Chinese companies avoid the appearance of Chinese investment," he said. South East Asia overtook the EU to become China's largest regional trading partner in 2020, according to Mr Redfearn. Global footprint Rui Ma, a Chinese tech expert and investor, added: "You've seen Western companies (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and many more) make it their Asia Pacific headquarters for a while now, so it's natural Chinese companies also consider it for the same reasons. "I think the recent US-China geopolitical tensions only make it even more attractive, but that's not the only or primary reason." She says globalisation is another driving force. "If Western companies can be global, why can't we? "Chinese companies are very much willing to invest for the long term and are not going to be content to be left behind when it comes to future opportunities."
Singapore distributes Covid contact-tracing tokens - BBC News
The government hopes the Bluetooth tokens will play a significant role in reopening Singapore's economy.
Image copyrightSilver Generation Office (SGO) The Singapore government has started distributing Bluetooth contact-tracing tokens to its five million residents. The tokens, which can be worn on a lanyard or carried, are a hardware version of its existing contact-tracing app which was rolled out in March. Like the app, they use Bluetooth to look for other users' devices and then log any contact with those devices. They could be popular with people who do not have access to the app or a smart phone. The Ministry of Health says they will make tackling the spread of Covid-19 easier and help to further reopen the economy. It said the tokens will help to restart "larger scale" business events, such as conferences, and allow for better tracing in higher risk settings, such as busy hotels, cinemas and gyms. The initial rollout is happening in areas with a greater concentration of elderly people, who are both at a greater health risk from Covid-19 and less likely to own a smart phone. But the token will be available to all citizens, including foreign residents. Singapore residents currently check-in to shops and office buildings using a separate SafeEntry system, that makes use of QR codes to log users' presence. For some higher-risk activities, SafeEntry will now also require the app or token to check in. Better for privacy? A consultant tapped by the government's technology agency to provide feedback on the token said it's a better option for anyone concerned about privacy. "I would prefer to use the token over the app," said Bunnie Huang, who lined up for a token on the first day it was available. Like app, information is stored on the token, purged regularly and is only uploaded - or in the case of the token physically handed over - to the Ministry of Health if the user tests positive. The tokens can be carried on a lanyard or in a bag, and don't require a smart phone to run. The advantage to a hardware-only version, said Mr Huang, is that it makes it impossible for a software update to surreptitiously turn on location data or other sensors without the user noticing. "With the token, if I want it off, I know how to destroy it," he said. The token will also help to cover people without a smart phone, and those who have encountered functionality problems with the app, he said. Image copyrightGetty Images Apps around the world Singapore was the first government to introduce a contact tracing app nationally in March. Since then, about 2.4 million people have downloaded the app, with about 1.4 million using it in August. Singapore government figures have long acknowledged that those numbers need to increase to make the app and the token effective. But the Ministry of Health said the program has helped to reduce the time it takes to identify and quarantine close contacts of Covid-19 cases from four days to two. The city-state has been more enthusiastic about contact tracing apps than many other countries, which have been slower to introduce apps or have struggled to make good use of them. England and Wales, for example, won't introduce their app until later this month, while Australia has struggled to get any information from the app that it didn't get by regular contact tracing.
Gonorrhoea cases in England hit record high - BBC News
Numbers in 2019 were highest ever, but a drop is expected this year due to coronavirus and lockdown.
Image copyrightGetty Images Gonorrhoea cases in England are at the highest level since records began more than 100 years ago. A total of 70,936 cases were reported last year - up by more than a quarter from 2018. Although it's too early to tell, health experts suspect last year's figures will be in stark contrast to those from 2020. These could be much lower because of lockdown, meaning fewer people having sex with new partners this year. "A pandemic isn't the answer to bringing down shocking STI rates," says Fraser Wilson from the sexual health charity, Terrence Higgins Trust. "So while it may well mean that next year we see a drop, we need a clear strategy for tackling STIs in the long term." What do the statistics show? The figures from Public Health England suggest that between 2018-19 increases in gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis were reported in all those aged 15 and older. The largest proportional increase was for 20-24 year olds with gonorrhoea which rose 28% from 13,623 to 17,443. Symptoms can include a thick green or yellow discharge from sexual organs, pain when urinating and bleeding between periods. However, it often has no symptoms. The latest STI stats can seem alarming, but experts say the rise can be partly explained by more and better testing. Lockdown will affect STI rates Although some experts view the pandemic as a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to drive down STIs permanently, others say it will only result in a short-term dip in cases. A decrease, short or long term, may partly come from people being put off going for testing - but also because social distancing means we're having less sex and therefore fewer tests are needed. "Lockdown made accessing sexual heath services more difficult," says Dr Mark Lawton from the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. "But many areas of the country now offer postal testing services... in some situations people can get treatment or contraception by post too. You might also like: Should I be worried about having sex again? The key is to be open about your health with any potential partners. "We're now six months into this and asking people of any age not to have sex indefinitely is not realistic," says Fraser from the Terrence Higgins Trust. "Don't have sex if you have symptoms and before starting to have sex again there's this opportunity to get tested for STIs including HIV." Follow Newsbeat on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays - or listen back here.
Coronavirus: Obesity 'increases risks from Covid-19' - BBC News
Researchers also warn that a vaccine against coronavirus could be less effective among the obese.
Image copyrightGetty Images Being obese doubles the risk of hospital treatment from Covid-19 and increases the risk of dying by nearly 50%, a global analysis suggests. Obesity makes other diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure more likely, the US researchers say. Along with a weakened immune system, this can make these individuals more vulnerable to severe Covid-19. They also warn a vaccine against coronavirus could be less effective in obese people. This is based on the fact that flu vaccines don't work as well in those with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30. The team, from the University of North Carolina, looked at data from 75 studies from around the world for their research, including nearly 400,000 patients. They found that people with obesity and Covid-19 were twice as likely to end up in hospital and 74% more likely to be admitted to intensive care. They were also more at risk of dying from the disease caused by coronavirus. Studies from the UK have shown similar risks for people carrying excess weight, prompting the government to introduce new measures to curb obesity. Professor Barry Popkin, who led the study from the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, said the increased risks of being obese and having Covid-19 were "much higher than expected". He said healthier eating had to be a priority in many countries, with fewer sugary drinks and much less junk and processed food in people's diets. Obesity is linked to a number of diseases which also put people at higher risk of being ill with Covid-19. It can also lead to more inflammation in the body, reduce the body's ability to fight off infections and put more strain on other organs, as well as the breathing. "Vaccine researchers should look at how it affects obese individuals," Prof Popkin says of a coronavirus vaccine to protect against Covid-19. He is concerned that a vaccine, when it is ready to be used, may be less effective in a population with a high percentage of people with obesity. With obesity rising around the world and 20% of people overweight or obese in nearly all countries - in the UK and US it's close to 66% - understanding how treatments and vaccines work in this group is "critical", the research says.
Hong Kong protest singers fear for their future - BBC News
Has the new national security law pulled the plug on Hong Kong's pro-democracy musicians?
Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Pop star Denise Ho has become an icon of the pro-democracy movement "It feels like we're not in the Hong Kong we knew anymore," says Denise Ho. "It feels more like we are in China." Ho was once one of the biggest stars in Hong Kong. In the 2000s she was also becoming a major name in Cantopop on mainland China, where she would play to sell-out crowds across the country. That all changed in 2014 when she took part in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and became one of the faces of the movement. She was immediately blacklisted by the Chinese government. But Ho became an icon of resistance to Beijing in Hong Kong, playing shows with relative freedom and contributing to the soundtrack of the pro-democracy movement. Such behaviour has just become far more dangerous. Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption The mass pro-democracy protests that ripped through the city last year have ground to a halt On 30 June, Beijing passed a new security law for Hong Kong, a former British colony which is now part of China, but which was given unique freedoms before a transfer of sovereignty in 1997. Many fear the new law has altered the face of Hong Kong forever. Vaguely worded clauses on criminalising subversion, secession and collusion with foreign forces carry sentences of up to life in jail. Critics of Beijing have already been detained for alleged infractions including posting in support of independence on social media, carrying separatist stickers or holding blank sheets of paper. Among the high profile arrests so far are business tycoon Jimmy Lai and youth activist Agnes Chow. 'People will be more careful' All of this is having a chilling effect on Hong Kongers. Many are deleting past Facebook posts critical of the government. Books by pro-democracy figures have been removed from public libraries. Activists dare not chant independence slogans after the government warned such words could be in violation of the law. For Hong Kong's outspoken musicians, the implications could be huge. "It's a very difficult situation right now for basically anyone living in Hong Kong who has been vocal about the pro-democracy movement," Ho told the BBC. "Of course, people will start to be much more careful than before, myself included," she adds. Media caption100 Women: Denise Ho, the canto-pop singer who defied Beijing Musicians and artists are going to have to "figure out where the grey area lies", Ho says. "You have to deliver in smarter ways so that they cannot either oppress you or use the national security law on your work," she says. "For sure, people are thinking that things have to be done differently." But rather than self-censoring, Ho believes Hong Kong's musicians will need to become more cryptic in their criticism. She points to how some people have already started replacing the words of Glory to Hong Kong - the unofficial anthem of last year's protests - with specially chosen numbers in Cantonese. The author of Glory to Hong Kong - who goes under the pseudonym "Thomas dgx yhl" - tells the BBC of his joy at hearing his anthemic song bellowed out by hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Hong Kong last year. "It really was more powerful than I had thought. I could feel the connection between one another, and the same goal that we share linking us together: hope for freedom and democracy," he writes in a message. But he acknowledges that the national security law could cause him problems. Glory to Hong Kong was banned from being played or sung in the city's schools last month. "Although the song was released way before the new law was enacted, popular slogans were introduced into the lyrics. Officials claimed those slogans carry different meanings now, and may be found guilty under the new law," he says. Hong Kong's new security law Songwriter Lo Hiu-pan penned Raise the Umbrella, a song that became an anthem of Hong Kong's 2014 pro-democracy protests. He says the song had caused him problems even before the national security law. Pan, as he is better known, says he composed a song for a pop star that was due to be used in a Chinese film. But her management then contacted Pan voicing concerns that the song could lead to both the film and the artist getting banned on the mainland. They suggested using a pseudonym like "Penny" or "Pencil" rather than his name. "I certainly refused and thought it's an insult. Finally, they decided to replace it with another song," he says. Image copyrightLo Hiu-panImage caption Lo Hiu-pan wrote a song that became an anthem of Hong Kong's 2014 pro-democracy protests Pan believes that politically outspoken musicians could become increasingly shunned in the wake of the new law. "I think there will only be more people unwilling to co-operate with the musicians who do not make concessions. People didn't want to take the risk before, let alone in the future," he says. "Some people will even take the initiative to praise everything about [the Communist Party of China] and China in order to get some benefits." All of this will naturally result in a muzzling effect on the city's music scene, Pan predicts. "For it may break the law, there will be more musicians - including independent artists - who dare not to write political songs and songs with social messages," he says, adding that some will leave Hong Kong and others may hide their identity. 'We'll find ways to get to the audience' It's also not clear what the new law could mean for live shows. Denise Ho says she was not permitted to play the 12,500 capacity Hong Kong Coliseum last year and "can foresee that it could be many, many more times harder for me to get a venue". "We do need to think of different ways to perform. I do think that it's possible virtually or working within these grey areas of this law. I don't have an answer yet but I'm pretty confident that we'll be able to find different ways to get to the audience." Beijing says freedom of speech is protected by the new law. "People in Hong Kong can still criticise the Communist Party of China after the handover," Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Chinese government's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters last month. "However, you cannot turn these into actions." Hong Kong's top official Carrie Lam has insisted that the law only targets an "extremely small minority of illegal and criminal acts and activities". But Prof Johannes Chan, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong, said law's definition of subversion "is so wide that it could cover anything which remotely threatens stability". "This will be hard on the musicians and artists, as the room for creativity is inevitably stifled," he said. "At the end of the day, it is not whether they have committed an offence, but the mere possibility of an arrest will... lead to all kinds of self-censorship." Image copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Tens of thousands of people shut down the centre of Hong Kong in October 2014 Despite this, all the artists who spoke to the BBC said they planned to continue doing what they love. Thomas, author of Glory to Hong Kong, says it would be hard for him to turn his back on tackling politics in his songs. "I think most artists are influenced by their surroundings, in other words, society and politics," he says. "It is hard not to create artwork without any political content." Denise Ho says time it is not time to pull the plug on outspoken music in Hong Kong. "The people who have chosen to stay in Hong Kong - including myself - we are still very determined. Throughout all these years, Hong Kongers have been learning how to treat this fight," Ho says. "I think the power of the people should not be underestimated."
Covid-19: Why Hong Kong's 'third wave' is a warning - BBC News
Until recently, the city was seen as a poster child in its handling of the pandemic. What went wrong?
Image copyrightReutersImage caption Infections reached a record high - 149 cases - on Thursday Until recently, Hong Kong was considered a poster child in its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite sharing a border with mainland China, where the first cases were reported, Hong Kong kept its infection numbers down and was able to avoid the extreme lockdown measures introduced in parts of China, Europe and the US. But now, it's been hit by not even a second, but a third, wave of infections. The government has warned its hospital system could face collapse, and it's just had a record high number of new infections in a day. What went wrong, and what lessons are there for countries juggling both the pandemic, and the economic pain caused by lockdown? Quarantine exemptions and 'loopholes' Hong Kong had its first Covid-19 cases in late January, leading to widespread concern and panic buying, but infection numbers remained relatively low and the spread was controlled quite quickly. It experienced what became known as its "second wave" in March, after overseas students and residents started returning to the territory, leading to a spike in imported infections. As a result, Hong Kong introduced strict border controls, banning all non-residents from entering its borders from overseas, and everyone who returned was required to undergo a Covid-19 test and 14-day quarantine. It even used electronic bracelets to track new arrivals and make sure they stayed at home. That, combined with the widespread use of masks and social distancing measures, worked - Hong Kong went for weeks without a locally transmitted case, and life seemed to be heading back to normal. So how did the "third wave" - that has led to more than 100 new cases for nine days in a row - arrive? "It's quite disappointing and frustrating because Hong Kong had really got things very much under control," says Malik Peiris, Chair of Virology at the University of Hong Kong. He believes there were two flaws in the system. First, many returnees opted to quarantine for 14 days at home - an arrangement that's common in many countries including the UK - rather than in quarantine camps. "There is a weakness there because other people in the home are not under any form of restriction, and will still be coming and going," says Prof Peiris. However, he believes the more serious problem came from the government's decision to exempt several groups of people from testing and quarantine when they entered Hong Kong. Hong Kong had exempted about 200,000 people, including seafarers, aircrew and executives of companies listed on the stock exchange, from quarantine. It said the exceptions were needed to ensure normal daily operations continued in Hong Kong, or because their travel was necessary to the city's economic development. As an international city and trading port, Hong Kong has a high number of air links, and many ships change crews there. The territory also depends on imports from mainland China and elsewhere for food and essential goods. Media captionBBC Reality Check explains what "excess deaths" reveal about Covid-19 Joseph Tsang, an infectious diseases specialist and doctor, describes the exemptions as a significant "loophole" that increased the risk of infection, particularly from seafarers and air crew who also visited tourist spots and used public transport. The government initially said that the quarantine exemptions were not to blame, but later admitted there was evidence that the exemptions were behind the latest outbreak. They have now tightened rules for air and sea crews - but it can be difficult to enforce. There was alarm earlier this week when a foreign pilot was reportedly spotted sightseeing while awaiting Covid-19 test results. And balancing public health, practical concerns and the economy can be hard - a union representing pilots at FedEx has asked the company to stop flights to Hong Kong because it says the stricter Covid-19 measures, including mandatory hospital stays for pilots who test positive, create "unacceptable conditions for pilots". Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, says Hong Kong's experience with quarantine problems could also happen in other countries. "In the UK, you also have a 14-day quarantine at home, so you would have the same potential issue with leakage." Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australia have a mandatory hotel quarantine policy, which is "a good concept although there's the issue of who pays for it", he adds. Like Hong Kong, the UK also exempts certain travellers from border rules, including drivers of goods vehicles, seafarers and aircrew. Social distancing measures were lifted Hong Kong's quarantine exemptions have been around for months, but the third wave didn't hit until July. Prof Peiris believes this is because of a second crucial factor - social distancing measures were significantly rolled back in June. "As long as social distancing measures were in place the system could cope - but once measures were relaxed" the imported infections spread rapidly, he says. "It's a lesson for everybody." Image copyrightReutersImage caption The government has now banned gatherings of more than two people - and briefly banned all dine-in services Dr Tsang recalls that by late June the government had allowed public gatherings of up to 50 people, while there were celebrations for Fathers' Day and Hong Kong's handover anniversary. "Many citizens were fatigued after months of social distancing, so when the government said things seemed fine and relaxed restrictions, they started meeting with friends and family. "I think it's very unfortunate - many factors combined at the same time." However, Prof Peiris stresses that Hong Kongers had been "extremely compliant" with social distancing and hygiene measures during in the first and second waves - "in fact, they were even a step ahead of government instructions, wearing face masks before they were compulsory." He believes the reintroduction of social distancing measures now are already having an effect, and hopes that Hong Kong will be back to close to zero local infections within four to six weeks. At that point, he adds, the challenge will be to stop imported infections - particularly once social distancing measures are lifted. It's a challenge other countries will also face once they are successful in containing the virus within their borders, because "when you get to low levels of transmission within your population, having unregulated introductions from outside can lead to disaster." Did the pro-democracy protests spread the virus? Many of Hong Kong's pandemic struggles will apply to other cities, but the territory has also experienced another crisis - a political one - over the past year. On 1 July, thousands of people took part in a pro-democracy rally, despite the march being banned by authorities who said it broke social distancing guidelines. Hundreds of thousands also voted in opposition primaries in mid-July, despite the government warning that the primaries could breach a new security law. Image copyrightReutersImage caption Thousands marched in Hong Kong on the anniversary of its handover, 1 July Since then, Chinese state media have blamed both events for triggering the third wave of infections, while one politician called it "absolutely irresponsible behaviour". However, health experts say there is no evidence of them causing the spike in infections. Prof Cowling says scientists "are able to link together cases to identify chains of transmission, and there are no clusters attributed to those events," while Prof Peiris argues that the events "may have aggravated things slightly, but I don't think it was a major determinant one way or the other". Meanwhile, Dr Tsang says research has shown that "the strain of coronavirus in the third wave is different from those in previous waves" - in particular, it has type of mutation seen in aircrew and seafarers from the Philippines and Kazakhstan, so he believes the strain was imported. Media captionStephen McDonell explains what the law means, and what people in Hong Kong think There have been similar discussions around the world - particularly in light of anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd - over whether demonstrations can lead to a spike in infections, with some experts suggesting that outdoor events where participants wear masks and take precautions could be lower risk than initially expected. Could the outbreak affect Hong Kong's elections? There is widespread speculation that Hong Kong's government could postpone September's elections to Hong Kong's parliament - the Legislative Council - citing the spike in infections. Several local media reports, quoting anonymous sources, say the government is set to postpone elections by a year. Opposition politicians have accused the government of using the pandemic as an excuse to delay elections, especially as the opposition had performed strongly in local elections late last year. However the move has been welcomed by some, including former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang, who told local media: "The government won't be able to absolve itself of blame if polling stations turn into hotbeds for spreading the virus. "It's also nearly impossible for candidates to canvass votes given the social distancing rules." Prof Cowling says that social distancing measures reintroduced by the government have already stopped case numbers from accelerating over the past week. "I'm not sure it's necessary to delay the elections - certainly not for a year. You could consider delaying them for two weeks or a month, because by then we'd almost certainly have [local infection] numbers back down to zero." He adds that there are many ways to make elections safer, including increasing the number of polling stations and staff to reduce wait times, ensuring polling stations are well-ventilated, and testing all polling station staff two days before the election. Image copyrightEPAImage caption Singapore adopted extra safety measures for its general elections Governments have taken very different approaches to this - at least 68 countries or territories postponed elections due to Covid-19, while 49 places held elections as planned, says the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Singapore held its general elections earlier this month - and had its highest turnout in recent years, says Eugene Tan, a law professor and political commentator at Singapore Management University. "There is never a good time for an election during a pandemic," he says, but the vote went ahead with several safety measures in place and "demonstrates that it is possible to protect public health even as people go about exercising their democratic right to vote." However, he believes that making a decision on whether to proceed with elections is a tough judgement call for governments, particularly if public trust is low. "If you delay elections you could be accused of waiting for a more favourable time [for the government] - but if you go ahead you could be accused of playing fast and loose with people's lives. The worst thing would be to have an election, and then have a spike in the number of cases." Media captionTea, drugs and war: Hong Kong's British history explained