Opinion

Hong Kong armed gang steals toilet rolls amid coronavirus scare

Hong Kong police outside a supermarket after armed robbers stole hundreds of toilet rolls in a city wracked by shortages caused by coronavirus panic-buying. (AFP)
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Updated 17 February 2020

Hong Kong armed gang steals toilet rolls amid coronavirus scare

  • Toilet rolls have become hot property in the densely packed business hub
  • Alongside toilet rolls, there has been a run on staples caused by coronavirus panic-buying

HONG KONG: Armed robbers who stole hundreds of toilet rolls were being hunted by Hong Kong police on Monday, in a city wracked by shortages caused by coronavirus panic-buying.
Toilet rolls have become hot property in the densely packed business hub, despite government assurances that supplies remain unaffected by the virus outbreak.
Supermarkets have found themselves unable to restock quickly enough, leading to sometimes lengthy queues and shelves wiped clean within moments of opening.
Alongside toilet rolls, there has been a run on staples like rice and pasta as well as hand sanitizer and other cleaning items.

Police said a truck driver was held up early Monday by three men outside a supermarket in Mong Kok, a working-class district with a history of “triad” organized crime gangs.
“A delivery man was threatened by three knife-wielding men who took toilet paper worth more than HK$1,000 ($130),” a police spokesman said.
Footage from Now TV showed police investigators standing around multiple crates of toilet roll outside a Wellcome supermarket. One of the crates was only half stacked.
Hong Kongers reacted with a mixture of bafflement and merriment to the heist.
One lady passing by the scene of the crime who was interviewed by local TV station iCable quipped: “I’d steal face masks, but not toilet roll.”
The city, which has 57 confirmed coronavirus cases, is currently experiencing a genuine shortage of face masks.

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The hysteria that has swept through Hong Kong since the coronavirus outbreak exploded on mainland China is partly fueled by the city’s tragic recent history of confronting a deadly disease.
In 2003, 299 Hong Kongers died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an outbreak that began on the mainland but was initially covered up by Beijing, a decision that left a lasting legacy of distrust toward the authorities on public health issues.
The new coronavirus outbreak also comes at a time when the city’s pro-Beijing leadership has historic low approval ratings after refusing to bow to months of angry pro-democracy protests last year.
Authorities have blamed false online rumors for the panic-buying and say supplies of food and household goods remain stable.
But the panic-buying has itself created shortages in one of the world’s most densely populated cities where supermarkets and pharmacies have limited floor space.
Photos posted online have shown some people proudly stuffing their cramped city apartments with packets of hoarded toilet rolls.
On Sunday, the head of the city’s Consumer Council warned people not to stockpile toilet rolls in their flats as they were prone to mold in the notoriously humid climate.
She also re-iterated that there were ample stocks of toilet roll.


How world leaders are living through COVID-19

Updated 37 min 18 sec ago

How world leaders are living through COVID-19

  • Macron regularly goes out to meet care workers, researchers and workers without wearing a mask, except in hospitals
  • Russian President Putin is working remotely from his country residence at Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow

PARIS: World leaders in voluntary or enforced isolation have, like billions of people around the globe, been forced to change their lifestyles during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is a snapshot:
The German chancellor on Friday emerged from 14-days quarantine in her Berlin home and returned to her offices where she will continue to run the country via video and audio conference.
She had gone into isolation after meeting a doctor who was infected, but was negative in a series of tests.
During the crisis she has been photographed in a supermarket, pushing a trolley containing four bottles of wine and a pack of toilet paper, something she had criticized some Germans for massively stockpiling.
British Prime Minister Johnson has been confined to Downing Street since testing positive on March 27, after suffering mild symptoms.
He said on Friday he would continue his self-isolation as “alas, I still have one of the minor symptoms... a temperature.” His partner, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, has not been living with him during his isolation.
He has led a cabinet meeting by videoconference and has put self-filmed videos of himself on Twitter, seeking to “reassure” the nation that he is in “constant touch” with his ministers and the health authorities in the fight against the coronavirus.
The Canadian Prime Minister has led his country from isolation in his official Rideau Cottage residence in Ottawa, since his wife Sophie Gregoire was diagnosed positive on March 12.
Every morning he goes onto the lawn to give a news conference, at which he announces the new measures adopted that day and gives news of his family. He has stressed that he has no symptoms and has canceled all travel.
Officially cured on March 28, his wife has since taken their three children to the prime minister’s summer residence.
The US president, who has tested negative twice, has canceled several campaign meetings across the country as he seeks re-election in November. Except for a flying visit to a Virginia naval base, he has remained in Washington, mainly at the White House.
He hold a daily press conference, followed live by millions of television viewers. He also tweets and gives frequent interviews on Fox News.
Russian President Putin is working remotely from his country residence at Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow. He is being tested regularly for the virus as are the people in his entourage and is fine so far, the Kremlin said.
Concerns over his health emerged after he was shown on television shaking hands, without protective clothing, with the chief doctor of Moscow’s main hospital, who then tested positive.
On Wednesday, Putin was shown on television having his first video conference with the prime minister and the cabinet.
Macron has not been tested, according to his entourage, because he has no symptoms. Nine-tenths of workers at his Elysee palace have been sent home and the press has reported that some people in his entourage have tested positive.
While France is in confinement, he regularly goes out to meet care workers, researchers and workers without wearing a mask, except in hospital, in line with an official French position that masks are only useful for the infected and care workers.
He greets people in an Indian way, with his hands joined. The official photographer has tweeted a photo of him washing his hands.
The Japanese prime minister has been very visible during the crisis addressing parliament several times a day and giving televised press conferences most weekends.
Since the crisis began in the country hit the hardest, Italy’s Prime Minister Conte has been a frequent presence on television, cutting into evening programming to announce new security measures from Palazzo Chigi, his official residence.
Conte has been photographed working at his desk, participating in meetings over videoconference and taking calls.
Conte told La Repubblica daily in March that he had tested negative for the coronavirus, saying his doctors “follow me closely.
The Chinese leader kept a low profile at the beginning of the epidemic which first broke out in China in December, appearing only in mid-February wearing, like the vast majority of Chinese, a mask as COVID-19 raged.
Also the number one of the Chinese Communist Party, he has mainly remained in Beijing during the epidemic, except for a visit to the epicenter Wuhan in central China as the situation started to improve there. He only leaves the capital to encourage the resumption of economic activity.
Reports about him are shown every evening on the television news showing him with or without a mask: uncovered when he addresses a giant videoconference with hundreds of provincial officials or with leaders of the G20, but covered during this week’s visit to provincial factories and farms.
He continues to preside meetings, to publish articles in the official press and give major speeches, cementing his role as the head of the fight against the new coronavirus.
It is not known if he has been tested.