Hong Konger ‘missing’ after crossing China bridge checkpoint

The man was traveling by bus on Friday afternoon along the bridge-and-tunnel network linking Hong Kong, Macau and mainland city Zhuhai. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 December 2019

Hong Konger ‘missing’ after crossing China bridge checkpoint

  • The man texted his son saying he was being detained
  • Mainland police set up a checkpoint in Macau ahead of President Xi visit

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s immigration department said Sunday they have received reports a man went missing on a cross-border mega bridge to the gambling hub of Macau that currently hosts a Chinese mainland police checkpoint.
The disappearance first emerged on Saturday when the man’s son told local media his father had texted to say he was being detained while passing through an artificial island manned by Chinese police on his way to the semi-autonomous city of Macau.
The man was traveling by bus on Friday afternoon along the bridge-and-tunnel network linking Hong Kong, Macau and mainland city Zhuhai, his son said.
“His last message said ‘I got arrested’,” the son told Cable News, speaking anonymously.
The artificial island in the middle of the Pearl River Delta lies in Chinese mainland waters.
It does not normally host a checkpoint. But mainland police set one up there last week with X-ray machines and facial-recognition checks ahead of an upcoming visit to Macau by President Xi Jinping.
Hong Kong’s immigration department told AFP it had “received a request for help” regarding a resident “who was suspected to have gone missing... when traveling to Macau via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai Macau Bridge.”
The spokesman added that the department was reaching out to the city’s trade office in the Chinese province of Guangdong, which borders Macau.
Security is being ramped up in Macau ahead of Xi’s visit to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its handover from Portugal to China on Friday.
Last week Guangdong’s public security department said it was setting up a checkpoint on the artificial island to “create a favorable social environment” for the anniversary celebrations.
Hong Kong’s security bureau declined to comment on whether it was aware of the new checkpoint on the bridge.
AFP reporters passed through the checkpoint last Wednesday. It was manned by dozens of heavily armed SWAT officers, and bus passengers had their luggage, faces and identity documents screened.
The Macau celebrations come as Hong Kong has been convulsed by six months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests as the city chafes under Beijing’s rule.
The protests were initially sparked by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to the mainland where the courts are opaque and controlled by the Communist Party.
The 2015 disappearance into mainland custody of five booksellers who published salacious tomes about China’s leaders also sparked outrage.
The bridge linking Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai is an engineering marvel but some have criticized the undeclared costs which ran into the tens of billions.
A newly opened high-speed rail link to the mainland has also proved controversial because part of the terminus in the heart of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district is governed by mainland Chinese law.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.