March 2020


  1. The Other Problematic Outbreak
  2. Occupy co-founder Chan Kin-man has ‘no regrets’ over going to jail after early release from Hong Kong prison
  3. Why Wearing a Face Mask Is Encouraged in Asia, but Shunned in the U.S.
  4. 5 Wedding Traditions You Can Skip

The Other Problematic Outbreak


As the coronavirus spreads across the globe, so too does racism.


By                            :               Yasmeen Serhan and Timothy Mclaughlin

Date                         :               March 13, 2020

Source                     :               The Atlantic

When news of a novel coronavirus began to trickle out of the Chinese city of Wuhan in early January, Eunice began wearing a face mask. Though she lives more than 7,000 miles away, in New York City, she reasoned it would nevertheless be an ideal way to protect herself, especially on public transport. A Hong Kong native who lived through the 2003 SARS outbreak, she understood wearing the mask to be more than a simple precaution.

“When you wear a mask, it’s a symbol of solidarity to other people,” Eunice, who asked to be identified only by her first name, told us. “It’s [a way of] saying, ‘I understand that things are scary, but here is a thing that I’m going to do to protect myself and to protect all of you.’”

Not everyone around her, however, shared this understanding. In the weeks that followed, Eunice said she began experiencing multiple forms of xenophobia, such as people overtly distancing themselves from her on public transit or making racist comments—including a death threat. “Every time something like this happens to me, I always have a fleeting thought of, like, Should I not go out in a mask anymore?” she said. “I should not have to choose my safety over my health.”

Wherever a pandemic goes, xenophobia is never far behind. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus (and the disease it causes, COVID-19) began, reports of racism toward East Asian communities have grown apace. (More recently, this has expanded beyond East Asian populations: Thailand’s public-health minister yesterday appeared to lash out at white foreigners who he said were dirty and spreading the virus in the country, adding that people should be more afraid of Westerners than Asians.)

The denigration of certain populations is a familiar symptom of viral outbreaks. Disease, after all, fosters fear, which in turn fosters discrimination. During the 1853 yellow-fever epidemic in the United States, European immigrants, who were perceived to be more vulnerable to the disease, were the primary targets of stigmatization. During the SARS outbreak, which originated in China, East Asians bore the brunt. When the Ebola outbreak emerged in 2014, Africans were targeted. For this reason, the World Health Organization, which has overseen the global response to the coronavirus outbreak, opted against denoting a geographic location when officially naming the new virus, as it did with Ebola (named after the river in the Congo, where it was first detected) and the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome, known simply as MERS. “Stigma, to be honest, is more dangerous than the virus itself,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, stated recently. Still, some media outlets and U.S. leaders continue to refer to the disease as the “Wuhan virus.”

That the coronavirus has spread far beyond China hasn’t diminished the spate of East Asian prejudice. Brian Wong, a Rhodes Scholar from Hong Kong who is studying in Britain, has also experienced stigmatization on public transport. Jonathan Mok, a student from Singapore, was the victim of a violent attack on the streets of London. Restaurateurs in San Francisco’s Chinatown report that business has dropped since the start of the outbreak, and a Vietnamese artist was disinvited from a London art fair because of fears she would be perceived as a carrier. “If you are seen to be Asian,” Wong told us, “even if you are not coughing or displaying symptoms, people naturally walk away from you.”

As the coronavirus spreads, the xenophobia it foments quickly intertwines with the political conditions in the countries it touches, coloring the responses of populations and their governments. Right-wing parties in Europe, for example, have latched onto the outbreak to reiterate their calls for tougher immigration restrictions—Italy’s far-right leader Matteo Salvini was among the first to exploit the virus for his own kind of pandemic populism, erroneously linking the outbreak to African asylum seekers and urging border closures. Similar calls to suspend Europe’s open-border system, known as the Schengen Area, have been made by far-right politicians in Germany, France, and Spain. In the U.S., President Donald Trump pointed to the outbreak as further reason to construct a wall at the Mexico border.

In Hong Kong, where the virus first appeared in January, the territory’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, resisted calls to fully close the border with the mainland, arguing that such a “discriminatory approach” would only stigmatize mainland residents (though the number of border crossings between the two has drastically reduced since). Even without travel bans, intolerance persists.

Distrust and suspicion toward mainlanders, already deepened by months of prodemocracy protests sparked by fears of Beijing overreach, have grown. The Society for Community Organization, a local human-rights group, said last week that it had identified more than 100 restaurants where owners refused to serve Mandarin speakers and nonlocals (Hong Kong’s native language is Cantonese).

Minnie Li, a sociology lecturer at the Education University of Hong Kong who was born in Shanghai, reached out to the owner of Kwong Wing Catering, a popular restaurant chain that has aligned itself with the prodemocracy movement and said it will not serve Mandarin speakers, to try to discuss the company’s position. Though she was unable to secure a meeting with the chain’s owner, she and a small group of Mandarin-speaking friends visited two of its restaurants and brought along face masks, to donate, as well as a collection of articles written by Mandarin speakers who support the prodemocracy movement. But the outreach efforts were largely a disappointment, she said. Kwong Wing Catering did not respond to a request for comment. The chain’s position was rebuked by the government’s Equal Opportunities Commission.

“To associate a disease with a group of people and believe that banishing, quarantining, and segregating members of this group would be a sound protective measure will only distract us from the real threat,” Li wrote in a series of Facebook posts about her experiences. “The lived experiences of those who are scorned, feared, driven away, and unfairly labeled as ‘infected’ may show us how the climate of fear we have created could in fact cause far more serious damage to society than the epidemic itself.” Her writings garnered widespread attention, but “the negative comments outweighed the positive ones,” she told us. People disagreed with her tactics, saying she was trying to start trouble. Others accused her of being a “colonist from China.” The comments were particularly pointed given that Li is an active and well-known participant in the pro-democracy movement. During protests last summer, she took part in a hunger strike, eventually collapsing and being rushed to the hospital. Even people who participated in the strike alongside her, she said, chastised her for confronting the restaurant.

Roger Chung, Li’s husband and an assistant public-health professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, described the chain as taking a consequentialist approach that ignored important, difficult questions. “In public health, we talk about the ethics behind the measure; it is not enough just to talk about the measure,” he told us. “What about the rights of people? Are you upholding any virtues and values? There are other things that we need to think about.”

The latest effort to curb the virus’s spread has come from the U.S., where President Trump announced a month-long ban on travelers from more than two dozen European countries, excluding the United Kingdom, in an effort to “keep new cases from entering our shores.”

The problem with these measures, aside from social cost, is that they don’t totally work. In previous outbreaks, “things like travel bans haven’t materially stopped a disease getting into a country—they’ve simply delayed it,” Clare Wenham, an assistant professor of global-health policy at the London School of Economics, told us. Viruses don’t respect borders, and no efforts to fortify them are foolproof: A person from an affected country could arrive via a location that is not on the banned list, for example. Transmission could also be occurring in unrestricted places. Efforts to contain the disease are likely to prove even more futile in places where it is already spreading. In the case of the U.S. travel ban, there is nothing to suggest that restricting European visitors will prevent new cases from emerging: After all, the disease is already there.

The fallibility of these measures has been on full display in Italy, which, despite being the first European country to suspend flights to and from China after the virus appeared, became the outbreak’s epicenter on the Continent. Now Italy is under lockdown, and other countries are banning Italian visitors. The U.S., which was also among the first to restrict entry for Chinese travelers, is facing a substantial outbreak of its own in Washington State.

If travel bans and border closures aren’t always effective, then why do countries resort to them? Wenham said that while governments primarily impose these limitations to slow the spread of the virus, they also do so to reduce panic among the population. The more people worry, the more “you want to see your government doing something like that, because it makes you feel safer as an individual,” she said. And governments, to prove their capacity to handle the outbreak, oblige. It’s “security theater.”

Still, the WHO hasn’t necessarily advised countries against enacting these measures. “It’s a judgment call, and it will, of course, be influenced by the political context,” David Nabarro, a WHO special envoy for the global COVID-19 response and a co-director of the Imperial College Institute of Global Health Innovation, told us. “I’m aware of that, and I don’t propose to make any comment on whether that is good or bad. It’s just the reality.”

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Occupy co-founder Chan Kin-man has ‘no regrets’ over going to jail after early release from Hong Kong prison


  • Retired sociologist was sentenced to 16 months in jail last April for inciting and conspiring with others to cause substantial obstruction
  • Civil disobedience movement in 2014 saw protesters take control of thoroughfares in city’s heart, bringing traffic to a standstill

By                            :               Chris Lau

Date                         :               March 14, 2020

Source                     :               South China Morning Post


One of the founders of Hong Kong’s Occupy movement was released from jail on Saturday, and said he had no regrets over his role in bringing the city to a standstill in 2014.

Chan Kin-man, looking tanned and healthy, smiled and waved as he walked out of Pik Uk Prison in Sai Kung at 9am.

The former sociology professor’s supporters chanted pro-democracy slogans and called for “genuine elections”.

“I have been in jail for months, and time in jail must be hard. But I have no regrets because that’s the price one has to pay for democracy,” said Chan, adding that he was happy to see his family and friends.

Chan, who turned 61 earlier this week, said he believed the recent anti-government protests illustrated to the public why they had to take part in a civil disobedience campaign six years ago, and accused the government of lacking openness, transparency and impartiality.

He said he was aware that some young people had turned radical over the past few months, but accused the government of being responsible.

The Occupy founder was one of nine people found guilty by West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court last year over a host of public nuisance charges, as were law scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, who co-founded the movement with Chan.

All of them waited outside the prison to meet Chan, including Chu and Tai. So did some of Chan’s friends, such as Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, former Civic Party legislator Alan Leong Kah-kit, and Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting.

Activist and former lawmaker Long Hair Leung Kwok-hung was also present.

The group held a calligraphed banner with a message in Chinese that read, “Noble spirits trot thousand mountains”, meaning that with integrity, one could go a long way.

In 2014, protesters poured into various thoroughfares in Causeway Bay, Admiralty and Mong Kok, blocking these areas for 79 days to call for greater democracy for Hong Kong.

The movement was sparked by anger over the selection process of the city’s chief executive, with democracy activists calling for universal suffrage, but Beijing instead laid down a system where the eventual leader would come from a preselected candidate pool.

Chan was sentenced to 16 months in jail in April last year for inciting and conspiring with others to cause substantial obstruction. A government source said Chan, who served 11 months behind bars, had been released early for good behaviour.

His comrade, Tai, was also jailed for 16 months, but applied for bail in August, pending an appeal. Chu was spared jail and received a suspended sentence of eight months because of poor health and years of public service.

Legislator Shiu Kin-chun, for the social welfare sector, and League of Social Democrats chairman Raphael Wong Ho-ming were both sentenced to six months in jail. They were released in October last year.

Former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat and ex-student leader Eason Chung Yiu-wa had their eight-month term suspended, while another former student leader Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, now a district councillor, was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan was also spared jail, and received an eight-month suspended sentence instead, after she needed an operation for a brain tumour.

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Why Wearing a Face Mask Is Encouraged in Asia, but Shunned in the U.S.


By                            :               Hillary Leung

Date                         :               March 12, 2020

Source                     :               Time



Cheryl Man is usually the only one wearing a face mask on her New York City subway train. She notices this, but other people on the train notice, too. Usually she just gets odd stares from other commuters. But on Tuesday morning, when she was walking to school, a group of teens jeered at her and coughed in her direction.

“I felt very humiliated and misunderstood,” says Man, a 20-year-old student and research assistant who is ethnically Chinese.

Man also feels the stigma at her workplace, where she keeps her mask on. None of her colleagues wear a face mask, and some of them have asked her if she is sick.

“Why do they think it’s about me? It’s a civic duty,” she says. “If I have a mask on, and if—touch wood—I’m infected, I could cut the chain off where I am. That could save a lot of people.”

That’s what health experts in Hong Kong, where Man was born and raised, say, and it’s advice she trusts. Nearly everyone on Hong Kong’s streets, trains and buses has been wearing a mask for weeks—since news emerged of mysterious viral pneumonia in Wuhan, China that was later identified and named COVID-19. The Hong Kong government and leading health experts also recommend wearing masks as a way to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which the WHO declared a global pandemic on Wednesday.

While wearing a mask has become the norm in many places in Asia, the mask frenzy has hit nowhere as hard as Hong Kong. At the height of COVID-19 panic, residents lined up overnight outside drugstores to buy face masks. South Korea, Singapore and Japan have distributed face masks to residents. Taiwan and Thailand have banned the export of masks to meet soaring local demand.

Yet, in the U.S., wearing a face mask when healthy has become discouraged to the point of becoming socially unacceptable. The U.S. government, in line with World Health Organization recommendations, says only those who are sick, or their caregivers, should wear masks.

A tweet from Surgeon General Jerome Adams sums up the argument: “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

Two schools of thought, not enough research

As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, it has become clear there are two schools of thought in regards to face masks for the public.

On the one hand is the view shared by Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in Vanderbilt University’s Division of Infectious Diseases, who says that medical masks commonly worn by members of the public do not fit snugly around the nose, cheeks and chin.

“And if there’s a general recommendation that people wear face masks, we won’t have enough supply for healthcare workers,” he says, adding that his colleagues have already been reporting shortages. “The priority should be face masks to use in the healthcare environment, rather than in our community.”

He calls the evidence supporting the effectiveness of the general public wearing masks “scanty.”

But, David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who studied the 2002 to 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) extensively, says it’s “common sense” that wearing a mask would protect against infectious diseases like COVID-19.

“If you are standing in front of someone who is sick, the mask will give some protection,” Hui says. “The mask provides a barrier from respiratory droplets, which is predominantly how the virus spreads.”

He also says that the role of a face mask may be especially important in the epidemic due to the nature of the virus. Patients with COVID-19 often have mild or even no symptoms, and some researchers believe it can also be transmitted when patients are asymptomatic—meaning patients can be contagious and don’t know they’re sick.

Hui adds that the lack of solid evidence supporting the effectiveness of masks against the virus is no reason to dismiss its use, because there may never be definitive scientific proof. A properly controlled study would be impossible to conduct ethically, he explains. “You can’t randomize people to not wear a mask, and some to wear a mask, and then expose them all to the virus,” he says.

Joseph Tsang, an infectious disease specialist who also worked as a consultant for the city’s Hospital Authority, says the purpose of wearing a mask is two-fold. “Wearing a mask is not just for protecting yourself from getting infected, but also minimizing the chance of potential infection harboring in your body from spreading to people around you,” he tells TIME.

Tsang says the three layers of a surgical mask filter help reduce the risk of contact with droplets, through which the virus is transmitted. “Whenever you foresee to have someone within two to three meters (6.5 to 10 feet) apart, then it’s better to wear a mask,” Tsang adds.

Different cultural norms

But even before the coronavirus outbreak, masks were a common sight across East Asia—worn for a variety of reasons. It’s common for people who are ill and want to protect the people around them to wear masks. Others wear masks during cold and flu season to protect themselves.

In Japan, people wear masks for non-medical reasons ranging from wanting to hide a swollen lip or a red nose during allergy season, to keeping warm during the winter, says Mitsutoshi Horii, a sociology professor at Japan’s Shumei University, who works in the United Kingdom. Masks in Japan come in cloth and printed variations, and can also be worn for style. They can also be seen on the streets of Hong Kong.

The difference in perception of the mask comes down, in part, to cultural norms about covering your face, he says. “In social interactions in the West, you need to show your identity and make eye contact. Facial expression is very important.”

Japanese trainee teachers he hosted at the U.K. campus where he works at had a first taste of the cultural difference when they arrived. Horii says the university explicitly advised them not to wear face masks when teaching at local schools.

“If they wear masks, the kids could get scared,” he says.

The shadow of SARS 17 years ago also helps to explain the prevalence of masks, especially in Hong Kong. Perhaps nowhere in the world was hit as hard as Hong Kong, where almost 300 died of the virus—accounting for over a third of official SARS fatalities worldwide.

“It was largely the shock of SARS that shaped this local etiquette,” Ria Sinha, a senior research fellow at the University of Hong Kong’s Center for the Humanities and Medicine, tells TIME. “Although the younger generation do not remember SARS, their parents and grandparents did experience the fear and uncertainty of a novel infectious disease, and the loss of daily normality.”

Wearing a mask, she explains, has become a “symbol and a tool of protection and solidarity”—even if research proving their efficacy is lacking. “Mask wearing is not always a medical decision for many people, but bound up in sociocultural practice,” she adds.

The social pressures of wearing a mask (or not)

But Man and others in the West are finding that wearing a masks represents can also draw unwanted attention, and even make them targets. Even as COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have surged to more than 1,300 (Hong Kong currently has 129 confirmed cases, about 100 fewer than the New York area), Man says about a quarter of her friends from Hong Kong, mainland China and South Korea won’t wear masks over concerns about racism and xenophobia that has risen with the virus.

And while most people in Hong Kong are masked up, there are outliers. Andy Chan, 29, says he thinks city-wide mask-wearing is fueling unnecessary panic.

“People look at me funny because I don’t wear a mask,” Chan says. “But I think the only thing that’s laughable is everyone buying into this excessive fear. People are being led by emotion, not science.”

Still, Charlotte Ho, a 55-year-old stay-at-home mother in Hong Kong, represents the majority view. She says she wouldn’t even leave her building to buy groceries without a mask. If she sees somebody not wearing a mask, she says she would stay away—”just in case.”

“Wearing a face mask is just common sense. It creates a barrier, so nothing can touch your nose and mouth. Why wouldn’t I wear a face mask?” Says Ho.

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5 Wedding Traditions You Can Skip


Weddings have evolved and so have the rituals that were once rooted in archaic or sexist practices.


By                            :               Alix Strauss

Date                         :               March 12, 2020

Source                     :               The New York Times


Couples are swapping dated wedding traditions for more forward-thinking options: beachfront celebrations for church ceremonies, web-ordained co-workers for religious leaders, and off-the-rack dresses instead of grandma’s heirloom gown. Other traditions, now considered chauvinist or archaic, are also being nixed.

“Many obscure rituals are rooted in superstition — the dodging of evil spirits, protecting the couple, or the hope of obtaining good fortune,” said Amanda Miller, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Indianapolis. “Others highlight the imbalance of equal rights among the sexes.”

Thanks to progressive evolution, as well as improvements in women’s rights, obsolete customs have been dropped from most modern ceremonies. Here are five traditions we won’t miss.

  1. Why Wait for Him to Ask?

According to an Irish tradition tracing back to the fifth century, a nun named St. Brigid asked St. Patrick to grant women permission to propose to men. He supposedly agreed and Feb. 29 became known as “The Ladies’ Privilege.” The opportunity to ask a man every four years was believed to balance traditional gender roles, similarly to how leap year equally distributes the calendar. “Women who proposed were seen as unattractive, masculine, or desperate” said Katherine Parkin, a history professor at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. “That thinking changed as women became more empowered and with the legalization of same-sex marriages.”

       2. Vows That Include ‘Obey’

“In the ‘Book of Common Prayer,’ published in 1549, during Medieval England, it was customary for women to say in their vows, ‘to love, cherish and to obey, until death do us part,’” Dr. Miller said. “The groom was not required to say ‘obey,’ but did promise to endow her with all his worldly goods.” This was symbolic, Dr. Miller said, because it demonstrated that the male was still the head of the household, and that included his wife and children. “The rise of gender equality and a general decline of the influence of religion in everyday life made people question why there were two different sets of rules for couples,” she said. “Today the word obey has disappeared from most vows.” Instead, couples write their own, which invites freedom, individuality and personalization.

       3. Tossing the Garter 

Centuries ago guests believed tearing the bride’s wedding dress and ripping off a piece would bring good luck and fertility, leaving the bride, and her once beautiful gown, tattered and torn. That superstition was replaced with the garter belt toss. “The toss originated in the Dark Ages, and was an outgrowth descendant of that ancient tradition,” said Amy Shey Jacobs, the founder of Chandelier Events, a wedding and event planning company based in New York. “It’s seen as outdated, sexist and inappropriate. In fact, brides don’t even wear them anymore.”

After the pair entered for the first time as a married couple, the woman would sit in a chair in the middle of the dance floor while her husband removed it from her leg, sometimes using his hands, sometimes his teeth. Once removed, he would toss it, similar to the thrown bouquet, into the crowd of single men. The one who caught the piece of lingerie would wed next. “This rarely happens now,” Ms. Jacobs said, adding that in her 14 years in business she has never seen a toss. “Couples are getting married older, they’re more reserved. There’s something degrading about removing an undergarment from your wife in a virginal white gown, while everyone is looking.”

       4. The Silent Bride 

The 1834 edition of “Dunbar’s Complete Handbook of Etiquette” states that toasts shall only be made by men. Originally the bride’s father and best man raised a glass and gave thoughtful praise. Women had to remain silent. “During Greek and Roman times women didn’t have a voice in the public square, so it was never customary for a woman to speak at her wedding,” said Anne Chertoff, a wedding expert and chief operating officer at Beaumont Etiquette, an etiquette and protocol-training firm in New York. “Since the end of the 20th century the maid of honor, the bride’s mother, and the bride began speaking at the reception,” Ms. Chertoff said. “Meghan Markle made a toast at her wedding to Prince Harry, something that had never been done in a royal wedding before. That was huge.” Of the 100-plus weddings Ms. Cheroff has been involved with, women spoke at half of them. “It’s been a slow transition,” she said, “but more and more women want to say at least a few words to thank their guests, their parents and talk about their new spouse.”

      5. Putting a Price on Marriage

“Until the mid-1800s married women had no legal rights, under what was called coverture,” said Beth Montemurro, a sociology professor at Penn State University. “This meant that when a woman married, anything they brought into the marriage, like their dowries or anything they acquired, became the property of their husbands. A dowry ?system no longer exists in the United States, but in ancient times it was seen as necessary for fathers to provide a dowry when their daughter married as a way of insuring the groom would take care of her.” According to Dr. Montemurro, property marriage law was overturned in the United States in the late 1880s. Dowries morphed in the Victorian era with trousseaus, items given to the bride by her parents — like towels, linens, silver — that were seen as shared property of the couple. “The better the trousseau, the more marriageable the woman,” Dr. Montemurro said. “Hardly anyone practices that anymore. Increased rates of cohabitation paired with couples marrying older meant they already had many of these items. These antiquated traditions no longer fit with how people married.”

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