Hong Kong rules out citywide lockdown despite spiraling COVID

0

Pedestrians wearing face masks walk on a street, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Hong Kong, China February 14, 2022. REUTERS/Lam Yik

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

HONG KONG, Feb 15 (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday ruled out a citywide lockdown to tackle COVID-19, but a spike in infections has kept her from “ruling out” the possibility of postponing next month’s chief executive election.

Lam, who has not confirmed whether she will seek another five-year term as leader of the Chinese-ruled city, said her government’s response to the outbreak has been unsatisfactory, hospitals and the medical staff being overwhelmed.

Daily infections have increased about 20 times over the past two weeks and Lam said authorities were unable to keep pace with their testing and isolation mandate.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

“There are no plans for a general lockdown of the city,” she said, but doubled down on her “dynamic zero” coronavirus strategy, similar to mainland China which seeks to curb outbreaks as soon as they happen.

“We can’t surrender to the virus. It’s not an option.”

The city is expected to report at least 1,501 new infections on Tuesday with another 5,400 preliminary positive cases, TVB broadcaster said, citing an unidentified source.

Health authorities reported a record 2,071 infections on Monday, with another 4,500 preliminary positive cases.

Asked if the city’s chief executive election, scheduled for March 27, would go ahead, Lam said plans were unchanged, but given “the severity and speed of this latest vague”, the situation would be constantly reviewed.

“So I can’t rule out any possibilities at this time,” she said.

A committee of 1,500 members, all approved by the authorities for their “patriotism” and loyalty to Beijing, participates in the election of the next leader. The election for the chief executive has never been postponed since the city was transferred from Britain to China in 1997.

Two years ago, authorities cited the coronavirus for postponing parliamentary elections, in which some seats are awarded by public vote. These elections took place in December 2021 under the new “patriots only” rules imposed by Beijing.

Restrictions on social and public gatherings, imposed after the pandemic began, helped Hong Kong authorities stifle a pro-democracy movement whose mass protests rocked the city in 2019, and a national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020 effectively ended the unrest.

BEIJING’S SUPPORT

International travel has been severely hampered due to strict flight restrictions that left Hong Kong one of the most isolated major cities in the world, with its borders effectively sealed for around two years.

Most venues in churches, pubs, schools and gymnasiums remain closed while public gatherings of more than two people are banned. Dining in restaurants is not permitted after 6:00 p.m., when most people are working from home.

Hong Kong will introduce a vaccine pass from February 24 where residents will need to show proof of vaccination before entering restaurants, supermarkets and shopping malls.

Face-to-face lessons in schools will be suspended until at least March 6, the government announced on Monday.

As cases soar in Hong Kong, China said it would help the city boost its testing, treatment and quarantine capacity, and secure resources ranging from rapid antigen kits and protection with fresh vegetables.

Lam said the central government would deliver more than 100 million test kits to the territory. The government is also recruiting more cross-border truckers to secure the mainland’s vegetable supply after recent shortages due to several infected drivers.

Despite the latest surge, deaths remain far below those in cities of similar size since the pandemic broke out two years ago.

The total number of cases in Hong Kong since the start of the pandemic is around 25,000 infections, including just over 200 deaths.

But, with the health system already overstretched, medical experts warn the city could see 28,000 daily infections by the end of March, and there are concerns about the large number of older people who have been hesitant to get vaccinated.

Anticipating the need for more isolation facilities, Lam said around 3,000 public housing and around 10,000 hotel rooms would be converted.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu, Joyce Zhou, Clare Jim and Anne Marie Roantree; Written by Farah Master; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Share.

About Author

Comments are closed.