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AFP
March 28, 2020

Virus puts Hong Kong’s ‘McRefugees’ back on streets

World

AFP
March 28, 2020

HONG KONG: Virtually blind and penniless, Leung Ping-kuen usually spends his nights dozing in one of Hong Kong's many 24-hour McDonald's but now finds himself back on the streets because of the coronavirus.

The 37-year-old is one of the city's so-called "McRefugees", a small community of homeless and rough sleepers who use the fast food chain as a shelter. McDonald's has long turned a blind eye to those sleeping overnight in their restaurants, a more common sight in the summer months when it is sweltering outside.

But in a bid to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, the company recently ended all dine-in services in Hong Kong from 6 pm for the next fortnight. "I heard about the news on Tuesday afternoon and I knew it would be trouble for me," Leung told AFP in Sham Shui Po, one of the international business hub´s poorest districts.

"They also have a business to care about, so I understand it´s a tough decision for them." Despite its phenomenal economic rise, Hong Kong has long been a poster child for inequality. It boasts one of the highest concentrations of billionaires in the world.

But at the other end of the spectrum, life is punishing in a densely packed metropolis with a desperate housing shortage, eye-watering rents and a limited welfare state. And like many other places dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, it is the poor who are the least prepared and the hardest hit.

Leung said he lost his job in a logistics company four years ago after cataracts made him blind. He technically has a home, if you can call it that. For HK$1,900 a month (US$245), he rents a tiny 40 square-foot (3.7 square-metre) cubicle under a stairway with no window, no independent flushable toilet and no proper lock on his door.