COVID-19 cases overwhelm HK’s healthcare system
Surge comes after government said China would help the city
Joyce Zhou and Twinnie Siu Reuters/Hong Kong/Hanoi
The Jakarta Post
Hong Kong reported 1,347 new daily COVID-19 infections on Sunday, down from the previous day’s record, but the spread, with 2,000 more suspected cases, threatens the city’s overstretched healthcare system, authorities said. The surge in coronavirus cases, the biggest test yet for Hong Kong’s “dynamic zero-COVID” strategy, comes a day after the government said China would help the city with testing, treatment and quarantine capacity. Authorities warned food supplies into the city may be disrupted, after some cross-border truck drivers tested positive for COVID-19, but said they were doing everything to get the situation back to normal “as soon as possible.” Hong Kong imports 90 percent of its food, with the mainland its most important source, especially for fresh food. Consumers have felt shortages of some imported goods, including premium seafood, due to stringent flight restrictions. Health authorities in the city of 7.5 million people reported 1,347 new coronavirus infections, down from Saturday’s 1,514, but they told a news conference there were about 2,000 preliminary cases. The rapid spread of the outbreak was overwhelming healthcare facilities, they said. Local media had reported that the city would report a record 3,000 infections, including the preliminary cases. “For those in a stable condition, please wait patiently. Please heed our appeal,” said Hospital Authority official Larry Lee. Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, John Lee, said on Saturday there were no plans to lock down the city, where schools, gyms, cinemas and most other venues are closed. Social gatherings are limited to two people, restaurants close at 6 p.m. and it is rare to see anyone without a mask. Most office employees have reverted to working from home. Hong Kong and mainland China are among the few places in the world still aiming to suppress every COVID-19 outbreak, but the Omicron variant has proven tough to control and the spread is piling pressure on a stretched healthcare system. Mainland measures announced on Saturday will give Hong Kong some breathing space as medical capacity is tested on all fronts, although there were no specific details of the plans and it was not clear how quickly they could be implemented. Hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in the global financial hub are at 90 percent occupancy, data from the Hospital Authority showed, while isolation facilities were nearing their maximum. Welfare Minister Law Chikwong said the city would shorten the quarantine period for residents and staff of residential care homes for the elderly because they were running short of isolation beds. Hong Kong has recorded around 24,000 infections and more than 200 deaths, far lower than other similar major cities, although medical experts warn it could see 28,000 daily infections by the end of March, with the unvaccinated elderly a particular worry. End of international flights curbs In the meantime, Vietnam reportedly will remove its COVID-19 restrictions on international passenger flights with all markets starting Feb. 15, with no limitation on the number of flights, the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported on Sunday. The Southeast Asian country imposed tight border controls at the start of the pandemic to keep out COVID-19, with some initial success, but that dealt a blow to its burgeoning tourism sector which accounted for about 10 percent of gross domestic product. “Vietnam will lift restrictions on international flights starting Feb. 15. The frequency of flights will be restored to pre-pandemic level,” Tuoi Tre said, citing Dinh Viet Son, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam. Vietnam has already informed its partners about that new policy and only China has not yet agreed to resume commercial flights with Vietnam, Son was quoted as saying. Vietnam had already begun gradually resuming international flights with 15 markets from the beginning of this year while easing quarantine requirements, with vaccinated passengers now needing only three days of selfisolation. The Southeast Asian country has recorded nearly 2.5 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, and around 39,000 deaths. Nearly 98 percent of its 98 million people have received at least two vaccine doses, official data showed.