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Out of control COVID situation frazzles Hong Kong

FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks wait for their swab samples to be collected at a makeshift testing site for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), following the outbreak in Hong Kong, China February 15, 2022. REUTERS/Lam Yik/File Photo

As a rapidly escalating wave of illnesses overwhelmed authorities, China’s President Xi Jinping reminded Hong Kong’s leaders that their “overriding mission” was to stabilise and manage a deteriorating COVID-19 outbreak, according to media reports on Wednesday.

The new: The edict puts even more pressure on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who just a day ago claimed her government’s response to the outbreak was inadequate, with hospitals and medical professionals unable to cope.

  • According to front page reports in the Chinese newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, Xi asked Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng to convey to Lam his “concern about the pandemic situation” and his caring for local citizens.
  • On Tuesday, health officials in the global financial centre recorded a new high of 1,619 confirmed new infections, with another 5,400 tentative positive cases. COVID infections are already more than 20 times higher than they were at the beginning of February, and the situation is only getting worse.
  • At least 4,285 new illnesses are anticipated to be recorded on Wednesday, according to TVB, which is more than double the previous high, with another 3,000 preliminary positive tests.
  • According to the media, Xi stated that the government “must mobilise all power and resources to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety and health of the Hong Kong people and the stability of the society.”
  • Both media outlets, which usually favour Beijing’s interests in Hong Kong, reported that Xi made the remarks lately but did not say where he uttered them.
  • The papers stated that local governments must “firmly implement Xi’s instructions,” and that Beijing has established a coordinating structure to accomplish this.
  • Lam, who has not announced whether she will seek re-election to a second five-year term as mayor of the Chinese-run city, said she could “not preclude” the prospect of delaying the chief executive poll next month.
  • No heavyweight competitor has yet to declare their candidacy, which is exceedingly unusual this close to an election.

What’s going on: Hong Kong has adopted the same coronavirus ‘dynamic zero’ policy used by mainland China to combat all outbreaks.

  • However, the rapid spread of the virus’s extremely contagious Omicron form has left authorities scrambling, with Lam claiming that they can no longer keep up with testing and isolation requirements.
  • On Tuesday, dozens of patients were treated in temporary open-air spaces outside medical centres while multiple hospitals were at full capacity. According to local broadcaster Cable, almost 12,000 infected people are awaiting hospitalisation.
  • China has stated that it will assist the city in expanding its testing, treatment, and quarantine capabilities, as well as securing resources like as fast antigen kits, protective gear, and fresh vegetables.

Facts and figures: Since the beginning of the epidemic, Hong Kong has registered roughly 26,000 illnesses and little over 200 deaths, much fewer than other similar-sized large cities.

  • Medical experts have cautioned, however, that by the end of March, the number of cases could have risen to 28,000 per day, owing to concerns about high levels of vaccine apprehension among the elderly.
  • The increase in infections comes as Hong Kong’s 7.5 million inhabitants become increasingly frustrated with the restrictions imposed to shield them from the pandemic.
  • For the past two years, the global transport and business hub has been virtually locked, making it one of the world’s most isolated big cities.
  • Churches, pubs, schools, and gyms are all closed, and public meetings of more than two persons are prohibited. Restaurant dining is prohibited after 6 p.m., when the majority of people work from home.
  • Due to the continuous limitations, a number of businesses have been forced to close, including two theatres this week. Many enterprises, according to industry executives, can no longer operate with cash reserves drained by closures in the previous two years and anti-government protests in 2019.
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