Hong Kong is overwhelmed with thousands of coronavirus cases, as ‘zero Covid’ policy fails

Prior to this week, Hong Kong had avoided scenes like this since the first case of the novel coronavirus was discovered more than two years ago. The city’s success in dealing with the pandemic – the highest daily tally of local infections recorded before 2022 was less than 200 in a population of 7.5 million – has been the envy of the world, as patients overwhelmed hospitals in other major cities around the world.

But poor planning. delayed vaccinations, especially among the elderly; The failure of Hong Kong’s “no virus” policy has left the city vulnerable. As the rest of the world begins to open up, Hong Kong is being flooded with new cases, with more than 4,000 cases recorded on Wednesday. This number is expected to nearly double by the end of the week.

For the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic, hospitals are overstretched, with waiting times of up to eight hours in emergency rooms. At a hospital designated to treat COVID-19 patients, a security guard in the outdoor triage area said people wait up to five days for coronavirus test results before they are triaged in isolation facilities.

Low morale is prevalent among health care workers, who face enormous stress, an increased workload, and an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus. At least 290 of them have contracted the virus in the past three days.

“It’s as if we’re playing Russian roulette and we see amongst the medical staff testing positive,” said David Chan, a front-line nurse at Caritas Medical Center and president of the Hospital Authority Employees Union, a labor union. He added that some workers are too busy eating or using the bathroom while monitoring up to 100 patients at a time.

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Coronavirus infections and deaths continue to rise, reflecting the exponential spread of the more transmissible omicron variant seen in other parts of the world. On Wednesday, Hong Kong recorded 4,285 new infections and 7,000 initial cases. Experts say this number reduce the severityas positive results of rapid antigen tests are not officially recognized, and other people may skip the tests.

At least nine have died of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and the latest victims include a 3-year-old girl and a 100-year-old woman.

Hong Kong is pursuing what it describes as a “dynamic virus-free spread” policy, which broadly aims to reduce local infections to zero. This is in contrast to the strategy of living with the virus with the vaccinated population, a policy that is increasingly being pursued elsewhere.

This zero-sum approach is promoted by Beijing, which exercises strong control over local officials in Hong Kong, and the policy mirrors the policy applied in the rest of China. Reopening the border with the mainland to end a two-year closure is the stated goal of the Hong Kong government. Plans to create a quarantine-free ‘travel bubble’ with Singapore dropped After that city-state turned to the strategy of coexistence with the Corona virus, and flights to Hong Kong were banned from several countries, including the United States and Britain.

Hong Kong’s strategy met its limits when the more transmissible omicron and delta variants began to spread more widely in society, despite strict social distancing rules and strict measures to limit international travel.

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The situation in Hong Kong is developing into an embarrassment for Beijing, which prides itself on its ability to control and manage the coronavirus outbreak as it hosts the Winter Olympics.

The pro-Beijing media, which echoes the views of the state, warned that Losing the battle against the coronavirus could “threaten the integrity of the nation.” same ports It was reported on Wednesday that Chinese leader Xi Jinping He urged the Hong Kong government to stabilize the local epidemiological situation, saying the authorities there had the “primary responsibility” to deal with the outbreak and should prioritize controlling it “above anything else”.

In response to Xi’s comments, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would follow his instructions and “mobilize all available manpower and resources and take all necessary measures” to control the spread of the coronavirus. Over the weekend, Hong Kong officials traveled to the mainland and agreed to cooperate on various aspects of the epidemic, including boosting testing capabilities and building isolation and treatment facilities.

However, Hong Kong’s problem is that it does not have the resources and capacity to stamp out the coronavirus through harsh lockdowns and population control as other Chinese cities have done.

Speaking this week, Lam said there were “no plans” to shut down the city, as seen on XianWuhan and other places in China. The government has acknowledged that the capacity of Hong Kong’s hospitals is limited, and announced on Sunday that priority will be given to children, the elderly and those in critical conditions, halting the impractical practice of hospitalizing all coronavirus cases.

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The authorities are planning to build a massive hospital, similar to the hastily built facilities that sprang up across the mainland when the pandemic hit in 2020, but so far, they only have Shortlist of 3 potential sites.

Experts inside and outside the territory say the Hong Kong approach will not work; On the one hand, it is not restrictive enough to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and on the other hand, it is not forward-looking enough to shift to mitigation and focus on vaccines to end the pandemic.

Maintaining a virus-free status indefinitely is “not possible” and only makes sense if it is a measure to buy time to distribute vaccines, said Ooi Eng Eong, an infectious disease expert at Duke-NUS Medical College in Singapore.

Hong Kong Older people also have a serious vaccination problem About half of those aged 70-79 and about a quarter of those aged over 80 have been vaccinated. The official focus on zero covid was that many thought they would not need vaccines.

Instead of focusing on vaccines, city authorities have kept their ties to the outside world to an absolute minimum, neglecting hospital capacity enhancement and focusing on scapegoating, including Unwise killing of hamsters They are widely kept as pets as they may be a source of infection.

David Owens, co-founder of OT&P Healthcare, which is among the largest private healthcare providers in Hong Kong, Wrote in a recent blog post That “the reluctance to consider scenarios other than a return to zero Covid is the antithesis of wisdom.”

“Vaccinations are working, and they are the only long-term solution,” he wrote, urging the government to recognize that zero infection with the virus is a “temporary condition.”

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