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Hong Kong’s Lam intends to reopen city once latest COVID outbreak is contained

A general view of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) isolation facility in Tsing Yi, amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong, China, March 9, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, said on Thursday that lifting a ban on flights from nine countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, was not the right time, and that the city would reopen only once the government had taken control of a deepening coronavirus outbreak.

The news: According to the Our World in Data magazine, the global financial hub has some of the most rigorous measures in place to battle a surge in coronavirus outbreaks, which has seen the city suffer the highest deaths globally per million inhabitants in the week leading up to March 7.

  • The total number of illnesses has risen to almost 600,000, with about 3,000 deaths – the majority of which have occurred in the last two weeks.
  • On Thursday, health officials reported 31,402 new cases and 180 deaths in the previous 24 hours.
  • Since 2020, China’s borders have been essentially locked, with few flights able to land and most travellers barred from transiting.
  • “This is not the time to lift the ban. A lot of people will rush to come back…there will be infected cases and that will add a lot of pressure to our public hospital system,” Lam said.
  • Her remarks came a day after she declared a shift in her government’s approach to combating the coronavirus, allocating more medical resources to the elderly as infections and fatalities among the city’s largely unvaccinated seniors rise quickly.
  • The Hong Kong government had previously focused its efforts on finding, treating, and isolating all cases, including those that were asymptomatic and mild, putting additional strain on the city’s hospitals and healthcare system.
A general view of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) isolation facility in Tsing Yi, amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong, China, March 9, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

What’s going on: Until recently, the government stated that it planned to conduct mandatory mass testing for Hong Kong’s 7.4 million inhabitants later this month.

  • Residents have been emptying shop shelves for over 11 days due to conflicting instructions from officials about the initiative and plans for a city-wide lockdown.
  • On Wednesday, Lam stated that there was no timetable for the testing.
  • After a prominent Chinese official stated that Hong Kong had to prioritise minimising infections, serious diseases, and deaths, the approach changed.
  • Hong Kong, like mainland China, has chosen a “dynamic zero” approach, which aims to prevent infections by implementing stringent mitigation measures. The fast-spreading Omicron variety has put the strategy to the test.
  • China has experienced an increase in locally transmitted coronavirus infections, with the daily figure for March 9 nearly doubling from the day before.
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