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Toilet Paper Shortage Rumors Spark Panic in Hong Kong

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  • Rumors of an impending shortage of toilet paper and other goods spread across Hong Kong, prompting residents to panic-buy products and clear the shelves of their local stores. 
  • The government assured residents that there was no shortage and called the false claims a “malicious act” from “rumor mongers with evil intentions.”
  • Despite the government’s statement and several grocery store restocks, locals are still lining up to stockpile on items.

Rumors Spread

Rumors of a possible toilet paper shortage in Hong Kong sent residents into a panic this week, causing shoppers to clear rolls from stores across the city by Wednesday night.

Despite little evidence of supplies running low, WhatsApp users spread a post posing as an internal update from the local supermarket chain Wellcome. According to the New York Times, the message said that suspended manufacturing in mainland China would cause most brands of toilet paper and other products to run out soon.

Residents in the city, who are already on edge over fears of the coronavirus, have been wearing surgical masks in public to protect themselves. That, in turn, has caused an actual city-wide shortage of masks– so for many, the toilet paper rumors didn’t seem too far fetched. Fears of the virus, paired with widespread distrust of the government’s ability to respond to a crisis, sent shoppers into a frenzy.

Videos posted on social media show people lining up to purchase as many rolls of toilet paper as they can. In several clips and photos, shelves are completely bare. Other popular items residents are targetting include rice, pasta, canned foods, and hygiene products.

Government Condemns Rumors 

After seeing the panic spread quickly Wednesday, the government issued a statement that evening squashing the rumors. The government said it “expresses regret over the malicious act of spreading rumors when the city is fighting against the disease, and condemns those rumor mongers with evil intentions.”

It also stressed that its steps to contain the coronavirus would not affect the movement of freight services across the border. “Besides, the Government has confirmed with the major suppliers that the supply of food products remains normal and there is no shortage of food. There are sufficient stocks of staple food including rice and pastas. There is no need for the public to worry,” the statement continued. 

Stores Restocking 

The supermarket Wellcome addressed concerns, saying the rumors were false but that it was “working closely with our suppliers to provide sufficient and diversified choices of products to our customers.” 

Some toilet paper manufacturers also confirmed that customs clearances had no effect on their freight services. Both stores and manufacturers said they are actively working to improve stock, which will become more abundant as mainland workers return from their Lunar New Year Holiday breaks. 

Still, the messages did little to alleviate fears of a shortage. Local reports said that on Thursday morning, shoppers were still waiting in long lines to stockpile products. RTHK News reported that toilet paper and rice at one supermarket in the district of Wan Chai — which had been fully restocked overnight — were cleared within 30 minutes of the store opening.

See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (The New York Times) (Hong Kong Free Press

International

Iranian Protests Sparked by Death of Mahsa Amini Spread Internationally

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Anger initially directed at the police has now shifted to the Islamic regime itself, with Iranian-Americans protesting outside the U.N. Headquarters as their country’s president spoke inside.


Hijabs Go Up in Flames

The largest protest movement in recent years has gripped Iran since the so-called morality police allegedly beat 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for violating the dress code last week, leading to her later death.

Demonstrations spread from the capital Tehran to at least 80 other cities and towns, with videos on social media showing women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in defiance.

In response, the government has gradually extended a virtual internet blackout across the country, blocking access to What’s App and Instagram.

To prevent protests from spreading, Iran’s biggest telecom operator largely shut down mobile internet access again Thursday, Netblocks, a group that monitors internet access, said in a statement, describing the restrictions as the most severe since 2019.

Clashes between police and protestors have killed some, but death toll reports on Thursday were conflicted. The Associated Press tallied at least nine people dead, while Iran’s state television put the number at 17, and a human rights group estimated at least 31 deaths.

The violence began on Saturday, shortly after the news that Amini had died the day prior in the hospital where she was comatose for three days.

Previously, the morality police arrested her for violating Islamic law requiring women to cover their hair with a head scarf and wear long, loose-fitting clothing.

Multiple reports and eyewitness accounts claimed that officers beat her in the head with batons and banged her head against one of their vehicles, but authorities have denied harming her, saying she suffered a “sudden heart failure.” Her father told BBC that she was in good health and that he had not been allowed to view her autopsy report.

“My son was with her. Some witnesses told my son she was beaten in the van and in the police station,” he said.

Surveillance footage was released showing Amini collapsing inside the hospital after grabbing her head, seemingly in pain.

From Anti-Hijab to Anti-Regime

Although the protests began in reaction to Amini’s death and Iran’s repressive policing, they quickly flowered into a mass opposition movement against the Islamic regime as men joined ranks of demonstrators and chants of “Death to the dictator!” broke out.

The anger was directed at the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as President Ebrahim Raisi, who attended the United Nations General Assembly this week. Iranian-Americans rallied outside the U.N. Headquarters Wednesday to voice their discontent as Raisi addressed the assembly.

“The hijab is used as a weapon in Iran,” one woman told CBS in Los Angeles. “It is a weapon against the West, and women are used as pawns.”

“Let this be the George Flloyd moment of Iran,” she added.

There have also been demonstrations of solidarity in countries such as Lebanon, Germany, and Canada.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)

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Queen Elizabeth II Dies at 96

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“I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world,” her eldest son and successor, King Charles III said.


The Passing of a Historic Monarch

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in Britain’s history, passed away on Thursday afternoon, per an announcement from Buckingham Palace.

According to the Palace’s statement, The Queen “died peacefully” while at her Balmoral estate in Scotland. Reports say she was surrounded by family members, including her eldest son and successor, who announced in the hours after her passing that he will go by King Charles III. Several of her other children and grandchildren were also present. 

Early on Thursday morning, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen was under medical supervision as doctors were concerned for her health. Soon after, BBC One suspended its programming to focus on coverage of the Queen. Anchors donned black attire while other media outlets and royal circles began to prepare for the 96-year-old monarch’s passing. 

The Queen took the throne at the age of 25 following the death of her father, King George VI. She served her tenure for 70 years, becoming not only the longest-serving monarch in the U.K., but also the second-longest serving monarch in world history. 

As the world changed drastically over the course of those seven decades, the Queen became a symbol of reliability and security for many. During her reign, 15 Prime Ministers took office in the U.K. She met regularly with leaders both in the country and abroad.

“She is unlike any other monarch in our history – she’s our longest-lived, longest-serving, longest-reigning monarch,” royal biographer Robert Hardman told BBC News. “She just stands for this constancy, this sense of permanence and stability. And I think over the years people have probably taken her for granted often. Suddenly, at times like this, we all realise… how precious she is.”

Charles Becomes King

In addition to King Charles III, she is survived by her other three children, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward. Her grandson Prince William is now the heir to the throne, followed by his children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis. 

The Queen’s husband Prince Philip died last year. 

According to the palace, King Charles III and his wife will remain in Scotland and return to London on Friday. Over the next ten days, the family will enter a period of grieving and succession. 

“We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished Sovereign and much-loved Mother,” The King said in a statement. “I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.”

“During this period of mourning and change, my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which the Queen was so widely held.”

See what others are saying: (BBC News) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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‘Dystopian’ British Gameshow Makes People Play ‘Spin to Win” to Get Energy Bills Paid

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As the United Kingdom’s cost-of-living crisis deepens, Prime Minister Liz Truss has announced a cap on energy bills.


Round and Round It Goes

The internet has lampooned the popular British television show This Morning” for its new segment, “Spin to Win,” in which contestants twirl a giant glittering wheel for a chance to win a cash prize or have their energy bills paid.

A clip of the show posted by TV critic Scott Bryan went viral on Twitter.

“#ThisMorning has turned completely dystopian and Black Mirror by offering to pay energy bills as a competition prize,” the post said. “Honestly I’ve never seen anything so tone deaf in all my life.”

In the video, host Phillip Schofield asks a contestant how worried he is about his energy bills.

“I’ve got one of these pre-payment meters and it’s absolutely murder,” the man responds.

“Round and round it goes. Where it stops, nobody knows,” Schofield said as he gave the wheel a spin.

When the spinner stopped, he shouted, “It’s your energy bill!”

“Oh my god, thank you,” the contestant said. His energy bills would be paid for four months.

Cost of Living Shoots Through the Roof

Many have called “Spin to Win” distasteful and insensitive because Britain is struggling through a cost-of-living crisis that has seen the price of basic necessities pierce the stratosphere. Late last month, the Associated Press reported that millions of people are on track to pay around 80% more in energy bills by October.

The same day, Britain’s energy regulator announced a price cap of £3,549 per year for heat and electricity.

The rising cost of utilities is driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the pandemic’s aftermath, and high inflation, among other factors.

“The Brits are trying to cope with the energy crisis,” said host Olga Skabeeva on Moscow’s state-owned Russia-1 channel this week, pointing to This Morning’s Spin to Win segment as evidence of the U.K.’s hardship. “I repeat, this is happening in Britain.”

On Thursday, new British Prime Minister Liz Truss announced a new £2,500 cap on energy bills for typical households over the next two years.

In the scheme, the government will cover the difference between the wholesale price energy firms pay for gas and electricity and the retail price they charge customers.

Truss refused to put a price tag on the measure, but it could cost up to 150 billion pounds, according to the BBC.

The cap will also affect businesses for six months.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (BBC)

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