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Ant Group Set to Raise $34 Billion in World’s Biggest I.P.O.

Ant Group, the Chinese financial technology titan, is set to raise around $34 billion when its shares begin trading in Hong Kong and Shanghai in the coming weeks, which would make its initial public offering the largest on record.

The company, the parent of the Alipay mobile payment service, priced its shares around $10.30 apiece, according to documents released on Monday by stock exchanges in the two cities. At that price, the company would be worth around $310 billion, a market value comparable to that of JPMorgan Chase and more than that of many other global banks.

The money Ant raises would surpass the $29.4 billion that Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company, Saudi Aramco, raised when it went public last year. Ant’s listing would also be larger than that of its sister company, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which raised $25 billion when its shares started trading on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014.

For hundreds of millions of people in China, Alipay may as well be a bank. It is their credit card, debit card, mutual fund and even insurance broker — all on a single mobile platform. It is a lender to small businesses, both online and off, that might otherwise be ignored by China’s big state-run banks. Alipay has more than 730 million monthly users, more than twice the population of the United States. By comparison, PayPal has 346 million active accounts.

Like other giant internet companies, Ant says its strength lies in performing a large number of different tasks at once. The more people use Alipay to purchase lattes, for example, the more data it gathers about their spending power. Ant says this information helps it offer loans, investments and insurance policies that suit users’ needs. The data also helps Ant and its partner banks determine who is likely to pay them back.

Yet the melding of finance and tech is attracting regulators’ interest everywhere, and Ant has not been spared the scrutiny. In recent years, China has clamped down hard on fishy online lending and investing schemes. Regulatory pressures have led Ant to temper its ambitions in certain areas since it was spun off from Alibaba in 2011.

In the United States, Trump administration officials have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products, said three people with knowledge of the matter. In 2018, Ant called off a bid to buy MoneyGram, the money transfer company, after it failed to win the approval of American officials.

Today, the company emphasizes that Alipay is merely the front door through which its users gain access to financial services. The lending and investing are still mostly done by established institutions — a message that was crystallized when the company, which used to be called Ant Financial, dropped the second word from its English name this year.

Last year, Ant earned $2.7 billion in profit on $18 billion in revenue. It says it handled $17 trillion in digital payments in mainland China during the 12 months that ended in June.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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Owners of BitMEX, a Leading Bitcoin Exchange, Face Criminal Charges

American authorities brought criminal charges on Thursday against the owners of one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency trading exchanges, BitMEX, accusing them of allowing the Hong Kong-based company to launder money and engage in other illegal transactions.

BitMEX is far from the first cryptocurrency company to be suspected of facilitating criminal activity. But it is the largest and most established exchange to face criminal charges.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted the chief executive of BitMEX, Arthur Hayes, and three co-owners: Benjamin Delo, Samuel Reed and Gregory Dwyer. Mr. Reed was arrested in Massachusetts on Thursday, while the other three men remained at large, authorities said.

Prosecutors said BitMEX had taken few steps to limit customers even after being informed that the exchange was being used by hackers to launder stolen money, and by people in countries under sanctions, like Iran.

“BitMEX made itself available as a vehicle for money laundering and sanctions violations,” the indictment released on Thursday said.

BitMEX has handled more than $1.5 billion of trades each day recently, making it one of the five biggest exchanges on most days. BitMEX and Mr. Hayes have been known for pushing the limits in the unregulated cryptocurrency industry.

After it was founded in 2014, BitMEX grew popular by allowing traders to buy and sell contracts tied to the value of Bitcoin — known as derivatives, or futures — with few of the restrictions and rules that were in place in other exchanges. That allowed investors to take out enormous loans and make risky trades.

The relaxed attitude also made it possible for people all over the world to easily move money in and out of BitMEX without the basic identity checks that can prevent money laundering. In August, BitMEX put in place some of those verification checks.

Mr. Hayes is from Buffalo, and previously worked as a trader at Deutsche Bank and Citi after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. He incorporated BitMEX in the Seychelles even though its offices were in Hong Kong and New York.

Mr. Hayes chose Seychelles “because it cost less to bribe Seychellois authorities — just ‘a coconut’ — than it would cost to bribe regulators in the United States and elsewhere,” according to the indictment.

A spokesman for HDR Global Trading Limited, one of the corporate entities controlling BitMEX, said: “We strongly disagree with the U.S. government’s heavy-handed decision to bring these charges, and intend to defend the allegations vigorously.”

BitMEX has been reported to be under investigation by American authorities since last year. On Thursday, American cryptocurrency experts said they were not surprised that the exchange would attract scrutiny given its freewheeling attitude.

“The vast majority of firms that service the U.S. are compliant, so it’s not surprising that the government would now turn to those that refuse to follow the law,” said Jerry Brito, the executive director of Coin Center, a research and lobbying group in Washington.

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Ant Group, the Alibaba Payment Affiliate, Files to Go Public

Ant Group, the payment- and finance-focused sister company of the Chinese e-commerce titan Alibaba, filed paperwork on Tuesday to list shares in Hong Kong and Shanghai, the first steps toward what could be a blockbuster initial public offering.

Online finance has exploded in China in recent years, and Ant’s flagship service, Alipay, has been a key driver. Relatively few people in China had credit cards when e-retail and other internet services began taking off in the country. That has helped app-based payments become far more ubiquitous in China than they are in the West.

In China, $67 trillion in transactions were conducted on mobile devices in 2018, according to estimates by the research firm Bernstein. Many of those took place through Alipay and WeChat, a rival digital wallet and messaging app owned by another Chinese internet giant, Tencent.

Once people were using Alipay to stash their cash and pay for online purchases, Ant could begin offering them other kinds of services through the app, including personal loans and insurance policies. Alipay says it has 900 million users in China.

“That super-app approach — where you create an ecosystem that’s enabled by payments, and then you layer on the other products and services both financial and nonfinancial — is something that no other company around the world has successfully done,” said Zennon Kapron, the director of Kapronasia, a research firm focused on the financial technology industry.

Ant’s share sale is likely to be big. The company raised funding two years ago at a valuation of $150 billion, which made it one of the most richly valued private businesses in the world.

The company’s filings on Tuesday did not indicate how much it hoped to raise through the share sales. Investors did, however, get their first detailed look at key company financials.

Ant said it generated $17 billion in revenue last year, a jump of more than 40 percent from 2018. More than half of its 2019 revenue came from financial services such as lending, wealth management and insurance that were offered through Alipay. The fees it earned from processing payments and serving merchants accounted for almost all of the rest.

The company said that transactions worth $16 trillion took place on Alipay last year, a one-fifth increase from the year before. It also noted that the platform had enabled $290 billion in credit to individuals and small businesses, as well as $500 billion in investments.

Unlike some other fast-growing tech companies that have listed shares in recent years, Ant is not losing money. It said its profit last year was around $2.5 billion.

Ant’s offering signals confidence in Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub at a time of upheaval. The central authorities in Beijing have used a new national security law to clamp down on antigovernment protests in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory, and in the process have cast doubt on its status as freethinking and laissez-faire. The city has also been strained by waves of coronavirus infections.

Ant’s choice of Chinese exchanges over American ones is meant to capitalize on the interest of local investors, for whom Alipay is a household name. Alibaba held a giant share sale in New York in 2014 and a second listing in Hong Kong last year.

But it also reflects the uneasy state of affairs for Chinese technology companies in the United States. President Trump has vowed to restrict apps including WeChat and TikTok in the name of safeguarding Americans from data gathering by the Chinese Communist Party.

Last week, Alibaba’s chief executive, Daniel Zhang, referred to the situation between Chinese companies and the Trump administration as “fluid.”

“We are closely monitoring the latest shift in U.S. government policies,” Mr. Zhang said during a conference call with analysts.

Alibaba created Alipay in 2004 as a tool for building trust between buyers and sellers on its online bazaars. At the time, internet retail was nascent in China. By holding payments in escrow, Alipay helped assure customers that they would not lose money if merchants turned out to be scammers.

Over time, Alipay evolved into an all-purpose payment tool, and Alibaba spun it out as a separate entity, which was rebranded as Ant Financial in 2014. The two companies had a profit-sharing deal until Alibaba acquired a one-third stake in Ant last year.

Recently, the company has begun dropping the “financial” from its English name, saying it wants to emphasize its technology.

Ant has sought to broaden its global reach by partnering with payment companies in India, Southeast Asia and Britain. But its ambitions in one giant market have been thwarted by politics. In 2018, it broke off talks to buy the American money transfer company MoneyGram after the deal failed to win the blessing of a Washington committee that scrutinizes investment transactions for national security risks.

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Hong Kong’s food e-commerce startup DayDayCook raises $20 million

The food blogging community in China is booming, and many creators have been cashing in big time by touting food products to loyal followers, a business model that has lured investors.

This week, Hong Kong-based startup DayDayCook announced that it has raised $20 million to expand its multifunctional food platform, whose users mainly come from mainland China. The company founded by banker-turned food blogger and entrepreneur Norma Chu offers a bit of everything: an app featuring recipes and food videos, cooking classes in upscale malls, and a product line of its own branded food products sold online, which makes up 80% of its revenues.

London-based Talis Capital led the funding round, with participation from Hong Kong’s Ironfire Ventures. The eight-year-old startup has raised a total of $65 million to date from investors including Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, the e-commerce giant’s not-for-profit effort to support young entrepreneurs in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The selling point of DayDayCook products is their carefully crafted brand stories. Users first consume the content put out by the startup across social channels, and then they become customers of DayDayCook’s ready-to-eat or to-cook food packs, kitchenware, and more.

“We really believe in the content-to-commerce model,” said Matus Maar, managing partner at Talis Capital.

He went on to explain that as content creation becomes easier thanks to an abundance of mobile editing tools, “even one person in rural China can make amazing content that creates a huge following.” He was referring to China’s reclusive influencer Li Ziqi who rose to stardom by posting videos on Youtube and domestic sites about her rural self-sufficiency.

“That goes hand in hand with people not wanting to see content that is super polished or comes out of mega agencies. People on the internet want to see authenticity. They want to see people doing real things,” suggested the investor.

While there is a legion of food influencers out there, not all are equipped to build a money-making venture. Matus believes DayDayCook has all the pieces in place: suppliers, distribution, logistics, and shipment. By developing its private label products, the startup is also able to sell at higher margins.

Chu said her company has amassed 2.3 million registered users on its own app. Its paid users, ordering through e-commerce channels like JD.com and Alibaba’s Tmall, grew 12 times year-over-year to 2.2 million.

DayDayCook’s content has a wider reach, garnering 60 million followers across microblogging platform Weibo, TikTok’s Chinese edition Douyin, Tencent’s video site, and more. That may not seem like a lot in the influencer era — Li Ziqi herself has nearly 12 million subscribers just on YouTube.

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Luxury Homes Tie Chinese Communist Elite to Hong Kong’s Fate

HONG KONG — Li Qianxin, the elder daughter of the Chinese Communist Party’s No. 3 leader, has quietly crafted a life in Hong Kong that traverses the city’s financial elite and the secretive world of Chinese politics.

For years, she has mingled with senior executives of state companies through Hong Kong and mainland professional clubs known for grooming the sons and daughters of officials. She has represented Hong Kong in Chinese provincial political advisory groups. She is the chairwoman of a state-owned investment bank based in Hong Kong that has long done business with the relatives of top Chinese officials.

Ms. Li, 38, also has deep financial roots in the city, having bought a $15 million, four-story townhouse perched high above a beach. Her partner owns a now-retired racehorse and spent hundreds of millions on a stake in the storied Peninsula Hotel that he later sold.

Ms. Li and other members of the Communist nobility are embedded in the fabric of Hong Kong’s society and financial system, binding the former British colony closer to the mainland. By building alliances and putting their money into Hong Kong’s real estate, China’s top leaders have inextricably linked themselves to the fate of the city.

As the party now takes a stronger hand in running Hong Kong, the top leadership in Beijing has a vested interest, politically and personally. Ms. Li’s father, Li Zhanshu, oversaw the swift passage of the new national security law for Hong Kong that handed the party a powerful new weapon to quash dissent.

The law could protect the families of the party’s leaders by stopping the protests that wreaked havoc on the economy, or leave them vulnerable by driving down business confidence in the territory. It could also expose them to sanctions.

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Credit…Hong Kong Policy Research Institute

Already the law has prompted rebukes from foreign countries that could threaten Hong Kong’s access to the global financial system. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Friday on Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and 10 other senior officials in the city and the mainland they accuse of curtailing freedoms in Hong Kong.

“Members of the Red aristocracy in China, including the princelings, have made huge investments in Hong Kong,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor of China studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “If Hong Kong suddenly loses its financial status, they cannot park their money here.”

One of the leadership’s biggest exposures to Hong Kong is in real estate. Including Ms. Li, relatives of three of the top four members of China’s Communist Party have in recent years bought luxury homes in Hong Kong worth more than $51 million combined, a New York Times investigation shows.

Qi Qiaoqiao, the older sister of Xi Jinping, China’s president, started buying properties in Hong Kong as early as 1991, Hong Kong property records show. Her daughter, Zhang Yannan, owns a villa in Repulse Bay, which she bought in 2009 for $19.3 million, and at least five other apartments, the city’s property and company records indicate.

Wang Xisha, a former Deutsche Bank executive who is the daughter of Wang Yang, the No. 4 party leader, bought a $2 million home in Hong Kong in 2010, according to city property records.

The Communist Party has long been secretive about the riches of many of its leaders’ relatives, aware that such an accumulation of wealth could be seen as the elite abusing their privilege for personal gain. In Hong Kong, the party is also mindful that the presence of princelings could further fan resentment of Beijing.

Ms. Li, like many relatives of top Chinese officials, keeps a low profile.

In the mainland, there are few mentions of Mr. Li’s family in the party-controlled news media, and searches for his daughter’s name on social media sites yield minimal results. A trip to Nangoucun, his ancestral village in northern Hebei Province, offered little insight about his children.

But internal documents from Deutsche Bank obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and reviewed by The New York Times late last year referred to a woman with the same name in English and Chinese as the elder daughter of Li Zhanshu, now the No. 3 leader in China. Those documents were part of an internal inquiry stemming from an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into the bank’s politically connected hires.

The Hong Kong identity number that is used by Ms. Li in a Hong Kong corporate record listing the directors of China Construction Bank International is the same one used in the records linked to the beachfront property and a company she owns with her partner.

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Credit…Eric Rechsteiner for The New York Times

A well-connected businessman and an associate have confirmed that the Ms. Li who is an executive at China Construction Bank International is the daughter of Li Zhanshu, as does a biography of the official written by Cheng Li, an expert on elite Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution.

The rest of her résumé can be pieced together through news snippets and archived web pages. They showed how Ms. Li has strengthened her ties to the city in ways that position her well for a political career in the mainland.

She joined networks like the Hua Jing Society in Hong Kong that provide a forum for princelings to meet the children of Hong Kong’s tycoons and political class.

In 2013, she and other Hong Kong representatives of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, or C.P.P.C.C., a party-run political advisory group, helped organize relief funds for a village. Two years later, she visited farmers and carried toddlers in the same province to promote the United Front Work Department, a party unit that develops overseas political networks.

Ms. Li is now the chairwoman of China Construction Bank International, the investment arm of a major state lender, according to corporate records in Beijing. Ms. Li, her partner and the bank have not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Times.

“There is often an assumption that simply being well connected is enough to get ahead in Chinese politics,” said Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese history and politics at Oxford University, who did not comment specifically about Ms. Li. “Actually, there is still a great deal of interest in candidates proving themselves for higher office in institutions such as the Communist Youth League and the C.P.P.C.C.”

Like many other members of China’s Communist elite, she has amassed significant wealth, according to a review of company and property documents filed in Hong Kong. Ms. Li also took advantage of a tax haven popular with the world’s elite.

She bought the waterfront townhouse overlooking Stanley Beach through Century Joy Holdings Ltd., a company registered in Hong Kong and incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, for $15 million in 2013, according to a document filed with the city’s land registry.

Ms. Li, then 30, was the Hong Kong entity’s sole director. That entity was dissolved in October, hours after The Times contacted Ms. Li for comment ahead of the publication of the article about Deutsche Bank’s hires in China.

Her partner, a 35-year-old Chinese-born Singaporean businessman, Chua Hwa Por, has used a similar strategy.

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Credit…Marcel Lam for The New York Times

He was named as the sole beneficiary of a firm registered in the British Virgin Islands, according to the Panama Papers, a 2016 leak of confidential documents that exposed how prominent business leaders and politicians might have used shell companies and offshore bank accounts to evade taxes. Mr. Chua uses a variety of addresses and several identification numbers, but he can be tied to Ms. Li, the properties and the companies through his Singaporean identity number.

The nature of Ms. Li’s relationship with Mr. Chua is unclear, but they own a company together and have used the same home addresses in documents they have filed with Hong Kong’s property and company registries. Hong Kong news reports have speculated that the couple were married.

In status-conscious Hong Kong, Mr. Chua was not modest about his wealth. At 31, he owned a racehorse named Limitless and posed for photos with a bottle of wine at the Hong Kong Jockey Club after it won a race in 2017.

That year, he also started to make a number of major purchases, according to filings with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. He took over Tai United, a little-known investment company listed in Hong Kong, using it to buy trophy assets including a large stake in the Peninsula Hotel and the 79th floor of an iconic skyscraper.

In July 2017, barely five months after he was appointed chairman of Tai United, Mr. Chua resigned from the company. He stepped down shortly after Next Magazine, a Hong Kong news outlet owned by the pro-democracy tycoon Jimmy Lai, reported on the purchases and his possible ties to Mr. Li, the senior Chinese official. (The publisher, Mr. Lai, was arrested this week, accused of national security and other offenses.)

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Credit…Kenneth Chan/South China Morning Post, via Getty Images

Mr. Li, the official, was at the time poised for a promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of party power, and even the whiff of corruption in his family would have been potentially damaging. In January the next year, Mr. Chua sold the bulk of his stake in Tai United.

Without public disclosure of the wealth of officials and their relatives, it is impossible to know how Mr. Chua and Ms. Li obtained their income. There are legitimate reasons for people to own companies offshore, and it is also not illegal for Chinese citizens to do so.

Shirley Yam, a prominent financial writer in Hong Kong, also raised questions about the couple’s financial dealings in a 2017 column in The South China Morning Post, a local newspaper owned by Jack Ma, one of China’s richest tech tycoons.

The newspaper later pulled the column from its website, citing “multiple unverifiable insinuations.” Ms. Yam resigned, and defended her column in a statement.

But if there was fallout from the disclosure, Mr. Li most likely emerged unscathed; in October 2017, he was elevated to the party’s powerful standing committee.

Since then, Mr. Chua has largely shied away from the public eye. But he and Ms. Li remain joint owners of a company called Chua & Li Membership. In annual filings with the government, both had listed the $15 million beach house as their residence until earlier this year, when Ms. Li changed her address to an apartment owned by Mr. Chua on the 60th floor of an exclusive property.

Ms. Li made a rare public appearance in April 2019, attending an event that now seems to have foreshadowed Hong Kong’s current fate.

She applauded alongside the Hong Kong leader, Mrs. Lam, at the opening of a government-backed exhibition promoting national security for Hong Kong, a promotional video for the event showed. Other special guests included the deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong and the directors of the highest offices representing mainland authorities in Hong Kong.

Shields and bulletproof vests hung on walls as members of the Hong Kong Army Cadets Association — a youth group supported by the government and the People’s Liberation Army — were taken on a tour of the exhibition.

Fourteen months later, Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong.

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Credit…Pool photo by Wu Hong

Sui-Lee Wee contributed reporting from Nangoucun, China.

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Hong Kong-based EMQ raises $20 million for its cross-border financial settlement tech

Cross-border financial transactions are a major headache for individuals and large companies alike, who often have to deal with long wait times and high fees in order to send money to recipients in other countries. EMQ, a Hong Kong-based startup that develops network infrastructure to make international payments faster, announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series B led by WI Harper Group.

EMQ’s technology is integrated by clients, including online banks digital wallets, e-commerce and merchant settlement providers and licensed financial institutions, into their existing networks, making it easier for them to perform cross-border remittances.

The funding, which also included participation from AppWorks, Abu Dhabi Capital, DG Ventures, Intudo Ventures, VS Partners, January Capital, Hard Yaka, Vectr Fintech Partners, Quest Ventures and Sparklabs, will be used for expanding EMQ’s international business, product development and licensing in key markets. Its last funding was a $6.5 million Series A announced back in December 2017.

EMQ is already licensed in Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and registered as a Money Service Business in Canada. It has also been accepted into the regulatory sandbox launched by Taiwan’s Financial Supervisory Commission to encourage innovation by financial tech companies.

The company’s co-founder and chief executive officer Max Liu told TechCrunch that EMQ will focus on scaling its operations, especially for business remittances, in China, followed by India and Japan. EMQ’s tech is already used to process business payments in 80 countries.

Until recently, the majority of transactions facilitated by EMQ were between consumers. Then in May, the company launched its enterprise payment solution for companies. Liu said EMQ now expects business-to-business transactions to account for half of its gross transaction volume in 2021.

According to Juniper Research, cross-border B2B transactions are expected to exceed $218 trillion by 2022, up from $150 trillion in 2018, thanks in large part to the adoption of new technology. Other fintech companies that also provide tech, including APIs, for cross-border transactions include Currencycloud, Payoneer and Transferwise.

Liu said EMQ’s main selling point is that it is focused on building a flexible infrastructure that can handle a large range of use cases in different countries, including e-commerce, merchant settlement, procurement, remittance and payroll.

He added that EMQ can be integrated into a client’s existing tech infrastructure with as little as two API calls. EMQ gives clients a fully-functional sandbox environment, which mimics real transactions, and allows them to experiment with its tech and work with EMQ’s customer support team before it is formally deployed. Liu said it usually takes clients between two weeks to two months, depending on a company’s size and requirements, to fully integrate EMQ into their business operations.

In a press statement about the investment, Edward Liu, a partner at WI Harper Group, said, “As digital transformation intensifies globally, enterprises today are increasingly international in scale and they will require a network infrastructure like EMQ with greater speed, more certainty, increased flexibility and transparency, to expand their business in Asia and beyond. We are excited to partner with the EMQ team to expand its market-leading position in cross-border business payments globally.”

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Hong Kong Disneyland to Close Again, Days After Disney World Reopens

Hong Kong Disneyland will close again on Wednesday to comply with a government-directed rollback of public activities in the region after an increase in coronavirus infections, the Walt Disney Company said on Monday. Disney called the closing of the theme park “temporary” and said its resort hotels at the Lantau Island complex would remain open.

With attendance of 6.5 million last year and an estimated 5,000 employees, Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest park in Disney’s portfolio. Shutting it down again means little for the company’s bottom line. In fact, the theme park and resort hotel property has lost money for the last five years. Losses totaled about $13.5 million last year. Pro-democracy demonstrations in the city have resulted in a sharp decline in tourism.

But it is re-closing at a highly awkward time for Disney. Over the weekend, Disney executives in Florida cited the smooth reopening of Hong Kong Disneyland and other Disney parks in Asia as evidence that the company’s largest resort, Walt Disney World, could reopen safely, even as coronavirus cases in Florida surge to alarming levels. On Monday, Florida officials reported 12,624 new infections, one of the largest daily jumps in the state since the pandemic began.

Hong Kong Disneyland, 53 percent of which is owned by the local government (with Disney controlling the balance), initially closed because of the virus on Jan. 26. It reopened on June 18 with limited capacity and other safety measures, including temperature checks for visitors and employees. The 14-year-old complex includes three hotels with more than 1,700 total rooms. Attendance has been very light since it reopened.

In re-closing Hong Kong Disneyland, Disney is complying with government restrictions announced on Monday by Carrie Lam, the territory’s chief executive, after local health authorities reported 52 new cases of coronavirus. (Since late January, Hong Kong has reported 1,522 cases.) The park’s closure was “required by the government and health authorities in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong,” Disney said.

Gyms, mahjong parlors and cinemas will also close on Wednesday. Hong Kong also prohibited all dining inside restaurants every evening from 6 p.m. Health officials said the territory’s new spate of cases was mainly connected to taxi drivers, restaurants and nursing homes.

Shanghai Disneyland reopened on May 11. A pair of Disney parks in Japan, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, reopened on July 1.

Disneyland Paris is scheduled to reopen on Wednesday.

Disney also plans to reopen two more Florida theme parks, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, on Wednesday, a decision that has been greeted by enthusiasm from many fans and extreme dismay by others, including some Disney workers. Disney World, which attracted more than 50 million visitors last year, has recalled roughly 20,000 furloughed union employees for its phased reopening, which includes an array of safety protocols.

County and state officials in Florida approved Disney World’s reopening plan. NBCUniversal reopened its three theme parks in central Florida more than a month ago.

“Covid is here, and we have a responsibility to figure out the best approach to safely operate in this new normal,” Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park chairman, said in an interview last week. “Businesses across the country are open, whether it’s a local pizza shop in Orlando or an airline taking on new guests.”

But authorities in California have slowed down the entertainment company’s plan to reopen the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. After an increase in coronavirus cases in California and an outcry from some Disneyland workers about safety, Gov. Gavin Newsom made it clear that he would not give theme parks in the state a green light to reopen in time for Disneyland to come back online this Friday, as Disney had hoped.

No new timeline has been given.

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US tech giants halt reviews of Hong Kong demands for user data

Facebook and Twitter have confirmed they have suspended processing demands for user data from Hong Kong authorities following the introduction of a new Beijing-imposed national security law.

A spokesperson for Facebook told TechCrunch it will “pause” the processing of data demands until it can better understand the new national security law, “including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts.” The spokesperson added: “We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions.”

Facebook said its suspension will also apply to WhatsApp, which it owns.

News of the suspension was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Soon after, Twitter also confirmed it followed suit. “Given the rapid pace at which the new National Security Law in China has been passed and that it was only published in its entirety for the first time last week, our teams are reviewing the law to assess its implications, particularly as some of the terms of the law are vague and without clear definition,” said a Twitter spokesperson.

“Like many public interest organizations, civil society leaders and entities, and industry peers, we have grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law,” the spokesperson said.

Twitter said it suspended transfers of user data subject to Hong Kong demands immediately after the law went into effect.

Messaging app Telegram also reportedly said Monday that it will no longer process data requests from Hong Kong authorities.

Tech giants have long seen Hong Kong as a friendly outpost in Asia as a semi-independent city nation state, albeit under the control of Beijing under its “one country, two systems” principles. Hong Kong has far greater freedoms from mainland China, where government surveillance and censorship are widespread.

But the new national security law, imposed unilaterally by the Chinese government on June 30, effectively undermines any protections Hong Kong nationals had. The law removes provisions for authorities to require a court order before it can demand data from internet companies, like Facebook and Twitter.

One industry leader, who chairs the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, said internet providers would have little choice but to comply with the new law.

The move is likely to put Silicon Valley tech giants — and other companies that follow in their footsteps — on notice with Beijing, which already has sweeping bans against some Western tech giants, including both Facebook and Twitter, on the mainland. WhatsApp is highly popular in Hong Kong, alongside Telegram and WeChat.

Updated with comment from Twitter.

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What Hong Kong’s Pandemic Experience Taught Uber About Other Cities

OAKLAND, Calif. — In late February, Uber executives were set to gather in San Francisco to form business plans for the year as the coronavirus steadily spread beyond China. While some executives who were initially invited had been told to stay home, the remaining few huddled at Uber’s headquarters to make plans for the inevitable pandemic.

One of them, Susan Anderson, who managed Uber’s business in Australia, New Zealand and North Asia, delivered bad news: In Hong Kong, Uber trips had declined rapidly as the coronavirus took hold.

“People were tracking what the rate of the virus spread was, and we saw that translate into a drop in trips pretty early on,” Ms. Anderson recalled in an interview. “It became obvious that this was not going to be contained.”

Months later, Uber is facing its greatest crisis: keeping the ride-hailing business afloat when many people are still staying home. Coronavirus totals in the United States, Uber’s highest-revenue market, continue to grow, challenging cities and local businesses that are trying to reopen. And rides, not surprisingly, are only haltingly returning to a semblance of what they were.

Hong Kong, on the other hand, has recovered from the pandemic faster than most other cities where Uber operates. The outbreak has been less severe there than in the United States, and many commuters have gone back to work. Although Uber’s business in Hong Kong is small and doesn’t generate much revenue, the foothold gave the company a preview of how quickly its business would slip away during the pandemic — but also a best-case example of what its recovery elsewhere could look like.

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Credit…Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

At first, drivers were reluctant to get back behind the wheel. Commuters returned to Uber once restrictions were lifted, while infrequent riders didn’t. Hong Kong also provided a testing ground for new virus safety features, like facial recognition software to detect whether drivers were wearing masks, before they were introduced globally.

The city began lifting restrictions in February, but a second wave of cases in March caused another dip in rides — a sign of the unsteady recovery that Uber is likely to see in the United States.

“If the world looked like Hong Kong, we would be in great shape,” Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, said during a March call with financial analysts. At the peak of the outbreak in Hong Kong, rides declined 45 percent, Uber said.

In major U.S. cities, Uber rides dropped as much as 80 percent. On average, they had begun to recover about 12 percent last month, the company said. The recovery in Hong Kong has been stronger, with business up 70 percent from its lowest point.

There were signs of recovery in states that began reopening, like Georgia, where business was up 43 percent, and Texas, up 50 percent. But those states are starting to see virus numbers spike, and Uber’s experience in Hong Kong suggests that a downturn in business is likely to follow.

“It’s been very beneficial for us having a presence here,” Ms. Anderson said of Hong Kong. “It’s given us a few more weeks to understand what this might look like.” She added, “There are some things that are going to hold globally true, and some things that really need regional tailoring.”

Some safety measures, like providing sanitizing products to drivers, became part of Uber’s global plans. After Hong Kong commuters returned to Uber more quickly than casual riders, the company increased its promotion of its commuting services.

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Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

One safety measure that might prove difficult to replicate in some parts of the United States is the acceptance of masks. In Hong Kong, wearing a mask is a commonly accepted way to avoid the spread of a virus. It made Hong Kong an ideal place for Uber to test its mask requirements and mask-detection software before rolling them out in the United States.

In May, Uber began to require masks for drivers and passengers in the United States, but the simple act of asking people to put on a mask has become contentious. In Australia, public health officials did not recommend masks, so Uber did not require them there.

Because of its history of dealing with virus outbreaks, including the SARS outbreak in 2003, residents of Hong Kong are acutely aware of the risks.

Gary Yau, an Uber driver in Hong Kong, stopped accepting passengers in January because he was worried about catching the coronavirus and infecting his wife and infant son. Now he picks up for or five passengers a day. He finally felt comfortable reopening his Uber app after offices reopened, while some social distancing regulations and border closures remained in effect.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


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