Hospitals in Hong Kong are struggling to keep up with an influx of new patients amid a record number of new coronavirus infections as the city’s management stubbornly sticks to its “zero-COVID” strategy
HONG KONG – Hospitals in Hong Kong on Wednesday struggled to keep up with an influx of new coronavirus patients amid a record number of new infections as the city’s management stubbornly sticks to its “zero-COVID” strategy and China’s leader Xi Jinping said that it was the municipal council’s “overall task” to control the situation.
Hong Kong is facing its worst outbreak of the pandemic, topping 2,000 new COVID-19 cases a day this week. The city council has already introduced strict rules banning gatherings of more than two households.
Xi personally issued instructions and instructed Deputy Prime Minister Han Zheng to express to Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam the high level of concern that Chinese Communist Party leaders had over the city’s ongoing outbreak, according to Wen Wei Po, a pro-Beijing news media.
Zheng stressed that the Hong Kong government “should sincerely assume the main responsibility and consider the rapid stabilization and control of the epidemic as the current overriding task” towards Lam, the newspaper said.
Zheng said China’s central government agencies and nearby Guangdong province would provide Hong Kong with resources to combat the outbreak, including rapid antigen testing, medical expertise and supplies.
China has been able to control the virus within its borders and maintain a strict “zero-tolerance” policy involving total shutdown and mass testing of millions of people.
Lam has also stuck to the “zero-COVID” policy despite geographical and other differences between the city, a particular administrative region and China itself. The comments from Xi and Zheng were the latest pressure from Beijing for her to stay the course.
In practice, this means that Hong Kong uses the same approach, that travel between the city and the mainland remains subject to less stringent quarantine rules than the three weeks or more required for all aliens arriving on the Chinese mainland.
Beijing will not allow Hong Kong’s borders with the mainland to reopen unless the city reaches and maintains zero COVID-19 cases.
The system seeks to contain and stop outbreaks as soon as they occur, with measures including zippers and extensive contact tracking. Last week, the entire exclusive Discovery Bay neighborhood was ordered to undergo testing after authorities found traces of the virus in its wastewater.
People who test positive are required to quarantine either in hospitals if they have severe symptoms, or in government-run facilities for mild or even no symptoms. The new record number of cases, driven by the highly transferable omicron variant, has led to the current overcrowding.
In contrast, the city-state of Singapore, which is the same size as Hong Kong with a population of about 5.7 million compared to 7.5 million, carried out strict decommissioning measures early in the pandemic, but is now pursuing a “live with COVID” approach.
The number of new cases per capita in Singapore has risen with the arrival of omicron, with 1,911 new cases per million people reported on Monday, up from 66 per million in Hong Kong, according to Our World in Data.
However, people who test positive and who have no symptoms or only mild symptoms should just quarantine themselves at home, and even those who have more severe symptoms are asked to see a doctor for medical advice before they going to the hospital.
Singapore also boasts one of the world’s highest vaccination rates with 88% of the population fully vaccinated compared to Hong Kong’s 64%.
Rising reported from Bangkok