Hong Kong considers tighter COVID-19 social distancing rules as city struggles to contain outbreak

Hong Kong considers tighter COVID-19 social distancing rules as city struggles to contain outbreak
A taxi arrives at a clinic designated to treat patients of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Hong Kong, China February 20, 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.
  • 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.
  • Because those who test positive and their close contacts have to isolate, Hong Kong is running out of quarantine facilities. Last week Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam asked property tycoons for some additional hotel space for these individuals.
  • On top of that, the government is now reportedly 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.

The development:

  • On Sunday, Hong Kong recorded 6,067 new COVID-19 cases – 12 imported, 10 critical and 14 deaths.
  • Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan told Commercial Radio Hong Kong earlier Sunday that there’s “definitely no room for relaxing social-distancing measures.”
  • Over the weekend, Beijing sent Hong Kong 10 million rapid antigen testing kits and other medical supplies, with the city’s government planning to procure a total of 100 million test kits, according to a government statement released on Sunday.
  • The Chinese government has also sent over a team to help build out more isolation and treatment facilities, with a total of 10,000 units being built at Penny’s Bay and Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.
  • On Sunday, controller of the Center for Health Protection Edwin Tsui said, “We have to closely look at the situation in the next week or two to decide how to contain it.”
  • Several additional measures are being considered, one of which is having police check people’s vaccination status in shopping malls and more dining-in restrictions at restaurants.
  • Hong Kong’s budget is also being delivered on Wednesday. And on Sunday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote in a blog post that “We must also try our best to bail out citizens and SMEs, stabilize everyone’s confidence, and deploy medium- and long-term economic development and ensuring economic and financial security.”

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