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Hong Kong’s budget criticized for halving handouts

Hong Kong’s budget criticized for halving handouts


The Hong Kong government faced serious criticism from lawmakers and representatives of small business, the middle-class and grassroots sectors on Wednesday after its new budget failed to meet demands amid an unfavorable economic situation.

In his budget speech, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said the salaries tax would be waived for the fiscal year between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2020, capped at HK$10,000 (US$1,290), down from HK$20,000 for the 2020/21 fiscal year.

All other handouts to the needy were also halved for the coming fiscal year. People will get an extra half a month’s worth of welfare, old-age and disability allowances, instead of a full month as before. Those receiving the government’s Working Family Allowance and Work Incentive Transport subsidy will also get an extra half-month’s payment.

Chan did not repeat last year’s HK$10,000 cash handout to the public, but offered HK$5,000 worth of “electronic consumption vouchers” to Hong Kong’s permanent residents and new immigrants aged 18 or above.

The vouchers will be given to consumers in five installments of HK$1,000, with people having to spend each installment before they can receive the next.



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PACIFIC

India loses a complex plot as Covid surges back

India loses a complex plot as Covid surges back


India is in the grip of a massive second wave of Covid-19 infections, surpassing even the United States in terms of new daily infections.

The current spike came after a brief lull: daily new cases had fallen from 97,000 new cases per day in September 2020 to around 10,000 per day in January 2021. However, from the end of February, daily new cases began to rise sharply again, passing 100,000 a day, and now crossing the 200,000 mark.

Night curfews and weekend lockdowns have been reinstated in some states, such as Maharasthra (including the financial capital Mumbai). Health services and crematoriums are being overwhelmed, test kits are in short supply, and wait times for results are increasing.

How has the pandemic spread?

Residents in slum areas and those without their own household toilet have been worst affected, implying poor sanitation and close living have contributed to the spread.

One word that has dominated discussions about why cases have increased again is laaparavaahee (in Hindi), or “negligence”. The negligence is made out to be the fault of individuals not wearing masks and social distancing, but that is only part of the story.



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A safer, better way to mine rare earths

A safer, better way to mine rare earths


Rare-earth metals are critical to the high-tech society we live in as an essential component of mobile phones, computers and many other everyday devices. But increasing demand and limited global supply means we must urgently find a way to recover these metals efficiently from discarded products.

Rare-earth metals are currently mined or recovered via traditional e-waste recycling. But there are drawbacks, including high cost, environmental damage, pollution and risks to human safety. This is where our research comes in.

Our team in collaboration with the research centre Tecnalia in Spain has developed a way to use environmentally friendly chemicals to recover rare-earth metals. It involves a process called “electrodeposition”, in which a low electric current causes the metals to deposit on a desired surface.

Mobile phones are important users of rare earths. Image: Twitter

This is important because if we roll out our process to scale, we can alleviate the pressure on global supply, and reduce our reliance on mining.

Increasing demand

Rare-earth metals is the collective name for a group of 17 elements: 15 from the “lanthanides series” in the periodic table, along with the elements scandium and yttrium. These elements have unique catalytic, metallurgical, nuclear, electrical, magnetic and luminescent properties.



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The secret of Taiwan’s Covid-19 success

The secret of Taiwan’s Covid-19 success


Taiwan has been widely-applauded for its management of the pandemic, with one of the lowest per capita Covid-19 rates in the world and life on the island largely returning to normal.

Just 11 people have died from Covid-19 in Taiwan since the pandemic began, an impressive feat for a country that never went into lockdown.

At the start of the pandemic, Taiwan was considered a high-risk country due to its proximity to China and the frequent travel between the countries.

With a history of SARS in 2003, which was not considered to be handled particularly well, the Taiwanese government acted quickly to close its borders. It set up a Central Epidemic Command Centre on January 20 2020 to coordinate cooperation across different government ministries and agencies, and between government and businesses.

new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has examined further just why Taiwan did so well at conquering Covid-19. The study’s authors, from a range of health institutes and hospitals in Taiwan and the US, compared the estimated effectiveness of two types of Covid-19 policy in the early months of the pandemic: case-based and population-based measures.



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End of an era, as Cuba’s Raul Castro steps down

End of an era, as Cuba’s Raul Castro steps down


It was a good beginning.

US President Barack Obama was moving toward a gentle rapproachment, with Cuba.

The target of fierce sanctions that have lasted since the President John F. Kennedy years, it finally seemed that America was coming to its senses with regard to the Caribbean island nation.

Fidel Castro, a thorn in America’s side for a half a century, was dead. It was time to move on, to a new US-Cuban relationship.

And then along came the mean-spirited Republican presidency, of Donald Trump. He would re-establish sanctions, and, even add more in his final days.



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CIA, DNI won’t discount Covid-19 ‘lab leak’ theory

CIA, DNI won’t discount Covid-19 ‘lab leak’ theory


It can’t be discounted.

In fact, it has grown from conspiracy theory, to a viable, legitimate theory.

During a House committee hearing on global threats, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns both stated that the controversial theory of the novel coronavirus’s origin was still being investigated by America’s spy agencies, Gizmodo.com reported.

Officials made similar comments during a Senate hearing Wednesday.

In so doing, they refused to swear off the increasingly discussed claim that the virus could have actually escaped from a lab — perhaps the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where Chinese scientists are accused of having conducted military experiments involving coronaviruses and animals, Gizmodo reported.



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Generation kill: In praise of America’s F-35 fighter

Generation kill: In praise of America’s F-35 fighter


Lockheed Martin’s controversial F-35 Lightning II stealth jet fighter has its detractors and proponents.

Having earned the nicknames the “trillion-dollar mistake” and “the flying super-computer,” among others, it has taken a beating from critics who point to its multitude of teething problems (some of which continue today), soaring costs and its inability to do anything really well.

My buddy and fellow pilot John Desramaux (an aviation expert from Ontario) and I often discuss (a.k.a. argue), over whether Canada should spend billions on the advanced, multi-role F-35, or just add more F/A-18s to its aging fleet of fighter jets.

As far as John is concerned, Canada should “go fifth generation, or go home.”

But is there any evidence — solid evidence — that backs that up?



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