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As COVID spreads unabated, Hong Kong working-class considers Lam’s fate

Medical worker Trevor Chung, 29, attends to patients, including 98-year-old Lam Foon, outside the accident and emergency ward of in Sham Shui Po district, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China, February 17, 2022. Picture taken February 17, 2022. REUTERS/James Pomfret

Lam Foon, 98, sits propped up on a hospital bed at the door to Hong Kong’s Caritas Medical Centre, swaddled in moist woollen blankets, waiting for testing to confirm her preliminary positive result for COVID-19.

“I don’t feel so good,” she said through a surgical mask, next to a similarly wrapped patient wearing a mask and face shield.

The news: On Thursday, hundreds of patients lay in the Caritas parking lot after the hospital, which serves 400,000 people in the working-class neighbourhood of Cheung Sha Wan on the Kowloon peninsula, ran out of room. In the midst of some rain, temperatures dropped to 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit).

  • The medical team couldn’t say how long Lam would have to wait. People who test positive for COVID at the preliminary stage must undergo additional testing before receiving therapy.
  • As COVID-19 cases rise, more than 95 per cent of all hospital beds are full, this and other images across the global financial hub are evidence of a public healthcare system under extreme duress.
Cafe manager Timothy Poon, 23, wearing a face mask following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, poses for a picture at his cafe in Cheung Sha Wan district of Hong Kong, China, February 17, 2022. REUTERS/James Pomfret

What’s going on: Hong Kong, which had previously been mostly immune to the coronavirus pandemic, is now seeing a citywide outbreak, with businesses crumbling and some losing patience with the government’s “zero COVID” policy.

  • Some apartment complexes and public housing estates in neighbouring Sham Shui Po have been walled off, crowds in malls and street markets have reduced, and once-bustling eateries known as dai pai dongs and vendors selling knick-knacks are quieter after dark.
  • Inadequate planning, a paucity of beds and other medical equipment, and recurrent manpower shortages, according to Trevor Chung, 29, a Caritas medic. “The government underestimated the situation,” he said, clad in a full-face visor and blue hazmat suit. “I expect things to get a lot worse … There are many elderly people in this district, and many aren’t vaccinated.”
  • The government of Hong Kong apologised on Thursday for the catastrophic situation in the city’s hospitals, which serve a population of 7.4 million people.
  • Even asymptomatic patients and those with moderate diseases have been sent to hospitals or quarantine centres as a result of the city’s zero-COVID policy, though the government is now modifying its tactics as the healthcare system is overburdened.
  • The epidemic has increased pressure on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, whose five-year tenure expires in June.
Lo Kai-wai, a 59-year-old logistics worker, queues outside a makeshift testing station for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sham Shui Po district of Hong Kong, China, February 17, 2022. Picture taken February 17, 2022. REUTERS/James Pomfret

What they’re saying: While Lam has stated that surrendering to the virus “is not an option” and Chinese President Xi Jinping has stated that the virus’s “overriding goal” for Hong Kong is to contain it, some remain unconvinced.

  • “You can see I’m wearing two masks. I need to protect myself because the government won’t protect me,” said Lo Kai-wai, a 59-year-old logistics worker queuing at a mobile testing centre that had already reached its daily quota of 3,000 people.
  • “I don’t want to see her (Lam) get a second term.”
  • Some business owners who have been harmed by government limitations are likewise sceptical of the measures’ long-term viability. “The government needs to find a better balance to both control the virus, but also to allow people to better get on with their lives,” said Timothy Poon, 23, the manager of a cafe  close to the hospital, whose business has dropped by up to 60 per cent amid the outbreak. “The zero-COVID policy is a mission impossible.”
  • Others, on the other hand, are more cheerful. “If everyone is willing to get vaccinated, the situation will improve,” said Lung Mei-chu, 78, at a testing centre in another district.
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