Hong Kong sees worst outbreak to date at over 6,000 COVID-19 cases

Hong Kong sees worst outbreak to date at over 6,000 COVID-19 cases
Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), move a patient lying on hospital bed at a makeshift treatment area outside a hospital, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China February 17, 2022. REUTERS/Lam Yik

The backstory:

  • Hong Kong is aiming for a “dynamic zero infection” situation, which, according to state-backed media outlet Xinhua news agency, does not mean trying to get to zero cases. Instead, it aims to identify new infections as early as possible so that the virus can be contained.
  • But despite the strategy, the city is now seeing its fifth wave and recording more cases than ever since the pandemic started over two years ago. These new cases started spiking after the Lunar New Year celebrations.
  • With that, Hong Kong has imposed its most stringent COVID-19 social distancing policies to date, with a vaccine pass being introduced on February 24 only allowing those who have received at least one dose of the vaccine into certain areas.
  • Another part of the city’s no COVID-19 strategy is that all infected people and their close contacts will be separated and isolated from everyone else in the community.
  • Health experts have also warned that the city could see 28,000 new cases a day by the end of March, with deaths rising to 1,000 by June. The experts added that returning to a “zero-covid” state would only be possible if the entire city were locked down for around two to three months.
  • On Wednesday, confirmed COVID-19 cases climbed to 4,285, 17 of which were critical, prompting reports of China’s President Xi to indirectly say to Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam to do whatever it takes to get the situation under control.
  • Because of the city’s zero-COVID approach, part of which involves isolating confirmed cases and close contacts from the rest of the community, the city is quickly running out of quarantine camps for patients. With that, during a call mid this week, Lam asked property tycoons to offer 10,000 additional hotel rooms for people who need to isolate after testing positive and have mild symptoms.

The development:

  • On Thursday, the city saw its worst outbreak to date, with 6,116 cases, 17 of which were critical.
  • With the health infrastructure – facilities and resources like ambulance services – at full capacity, photos of medical staff setting up tents outdoors to shelter patients have circulated around social media, prompting public criticism.
  • While meeting with several health experts who arrived from the mainland to help contain the outbreak, Lam told reporters that “city-wide virus testing is a plan we are considering now."
  • The specifics aren’t known, but a report that cited unidentified sources said the government is now considering testing up to one million people each day from March, with those who don’t comply fined HK$10,000 (US$1,282).
  • Local media cited Lam as saying 300,000 tests could be conducted daily by the end of this month.

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