Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced a series of measures targeted at elderly residents on Wednesday as a surge of Covid-19 infections sweeps through care homes with deaths rapidly climbing among the city’s mainly unvaccinated seniors.
The government would strengthen medical treatment and resources and set up more isolation and temporary care facilities for elderly coronavirus patients, Lam told a media briefing.
Her comments come after a top Chinese official said Hong Kong had to prioritise reducing infections, severe illnesses and deaths.
Infections in the global financial hub have surged to record highs of more than 500,000 cases and more than 2,500 deaths – most in the past two weeks.
The city suffered the most deaths globally per million people in the week to March 7, according to the Our World in Data publication.
Lam who was addressing the media for the first time in over two weeks, said she would be holding daily press briefings to detail the city’s progress against the coronavirus and clarify rumours or misunderstandings.
Residents Confused, Frustrated
Residents in the Chinese controlled territory have been confused and frustrated over contrasting messages from the government over the past two weeks about its campaign against the virus, including a plan for mass testing and whether a city-wide lockdown would be imposed.
China and Hong Kong have adopted a “dynamic zero” strategy that involves eliminating infections with strict mitigation measures as opposed to the approach adopted in other places of relying on high vaccination rates and moderate mitigation like masks in an effort to “live with Covid”.
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has tested both strategies but Hong Kong is now suffering the consequences of a relatively low vaccination rate, especially among the elderly, as the virus rips through the community.
Medical experts from the University of Hong Kong have estimated that by the end of April the number of people infected in the city of 7.4 million people could be about 4.3 million, with a death toll of 5,000.
Hong Kong’s hospitals, isolation centres and funeral parlours are swamped while public transport, malls, postal services, supermarkets and pharmacies are struggling to operate due to a severe manpower crunch.
Food prices have shot up and supermarket shelves have been emptied every day for a week as shoppers panic buy, on fears of a potential lockdown.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard