Hong Kongers have delivered a clarion call for change over the last fortnight with a landslide local election defeat for the government and more than one in 10 hitting the streets peacefully on Sunday — but will Beijing listen?
Monday marks the sixth month anniversary of a movement that has upended the semi-autonomous Chinese hub’s reputation for stability and blanketed its streets with unprecedented scenes of political violence.
But the last two weeks has seen a dramatic drop-off in clashes and vandalism — something the city’s pro-Beijing leadership has insisted must be a precursor to any meaningful dialogue.
The question on many lips now is whether chief executive Carrie Lam — and Beijing — will take the opportunity to reach out before anger explodes once more.
“Ignoring our voices will only make the snowball get bigger and bigger and there will be consequences to that,” Bonnie Leung, a prominent figure within the pro-democracy movement’s more moderate wing, told AFP.
The rare period of calm began in the run up to city-wide local polls in late November — the only election with universal suffrage.
Millions turned out tipping pro-establishment parties out of office and flipping all but one of the city’s 18 local councils to the pro-democracy camp.
The vote shattered government claims that a “silent majority” opposed the protests.
Then on Sunday the city witnessed its largest mass rally in months with organisers estimating some 800,000 people turned out, a vivid illustration of the public frustration that still seethes under the surface.
The rally, which received rare permission, was almost entirely peaceful. Small fires were lit outside two major courts and police pepper sprayed bystanders during an argument.
But no tear gas was fired — the first time a mass rally has been smoke free since the middle of August.
Jimmy Sham, from rally organiser the Civil Human Rights Front, said the ball was now firmly in the government’s court.
“We have to remind the SAR government that 800,000 people is still a very, very large number,” he told reporters.
“Carrie Lam should listen to our Hong Kongers’ demand as soon as possible,” he added.
Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has been battered by increasingly violent demonstrations in the starkest challenge the city has presented to Beijing since its 1997 handover from Britain.
Millions have marched in protests fuelled by years of growing fears that authoritarian China is stamping out the city’s liberties.
The movement’s demands include an independent inquiry into the police’s handling of the protests, an amnesty for those arrested, and fully free elections.
But there is little sign Lam is willing to budge.
Since the electoral drubbing, her administration has made vague commitments to listen to people’s demands, but no concrete concessions.
Beijing has stuck by her even as she languishes with record low approval ratings and the city police force’s reputation takes a hammering.
The movement’s more radical wing — which has embraced violent tactics — appears to have faded into the background for now.
Hardcore protesters had vowed to restart widespread travel disruptions at dawn on Monday if there was no response from Lam. But the threats did not emerge.
On LIHKG, a Reddit-like web forum that serves as a virtual command centre for frontliners, discussion abounded on whether a resumption of tactics that disrupted ordinary Hong Kongers for much of October and November might backfire.
“Many people think the dawn action has devolved into just disturbing residents while having no effect pressuring the government,” one popular post read, referring to the tactic of paralysing the transport network.
Some are looking to more traditional labour action.
Mung Siu-tat, head of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Federation of Trade Unions, said more than 30 newly founded unions have reached out for help in recent weeks.
“Quite a number of them are formed by white-collar workers, professionals and executives, who in the past might find it less necessary to unionise but have been politically awakened by the movement,” Mung told AFP.
Arrests skyrocketed in October and early November, especially after thousands of more hardline activists were surrounded by police on a university campus.
“The scale (of violence) may go down a bit because of the massive arrests over the last few weeks,” political analyst Dixon Wong told AFP.
But there are growing fears unrest may return if Lam and Beijing do not offer some sort of olive branch.
On Sunday evening, organisers called on marchers to go home, one black-clad protester took off his mask.
“You have been leading marches for 30 years but what have you achieved?” he shouted.
“We still have plans for a lot of things we want to do for Hong Kong.”
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.