Hong Kong under pressure as record COVID outbreak stretches hospitals to limit

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As Hong Kong’s cases surge, Beijing officials ask for “control of the epidemic.”

HONG KONG — Chinese President Xi Jinping has told Hong Kong officials to “take all necessary steps” to contain the city’s worst coronavirus outbreak to date.

Hong Kong — which went for months without any daily cases last year — reported a record 4,285 daily cases on Wednesday, driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Speaking with pro-Beijing media, Xi said Hong Kong authorities “should earnestly assume the main responsibility and regard the rapid stabilization and control of the epidemic as the current overriding task.”

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said she appreciated Xi’s concern and will work to unite the city to defeat the virus. Lam is doubling down on the city’s no-tolerance approach to the virus, despite escalating infections in the densely populated city.

Several public hospitals are overwhelmed and running out of beds.

Outside one hospital in the Sham Shui Po district, dozens of patients, many of them elderly, could be seen lying on hospital beds outside in a makeshift triage area, waiting for space to free up in the chilly weather. Rain is forecast in the coming days.

Hong Kong Hospital Authority official Sara Ho said, “We also feel very sorry for letting the elderly wait outside in such unfavorable conditions.”

Under the city’s “dynamic zero-infection” strategy, people who test positive cannot currently isolate themselves at home, even if they have mild or no symptoms. As a result, thousands are waiting to be admitted to hospitals or quarantine facilities.

The Hong Kong government is looking at ways to handle the bottleneck, including the possibility of turning hotels, housing estates and student housing into isolation facilities. There are also talks of building a makeshift mass hospital to cope with the surge, much like the one quickly constructed in Wuhan at the very start of the pandemic.

A special fleet of several hundred taxis will soon begin transporting COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms to and from their homes to designated clinics for treatment.

Beijing said it will assist Hong Kong with resources to fight the outbreak, including sending rapid antigen tests, medical expertise and workers.

Officials say there is currently no plan for a city-wide lockdown, like those that have been implemented in mainland Chinese cities like Xi’an

Hong Kong reported nine COVID deaths on Wednesday, including a three-year-old girl, the city’s youngest pandemic fatality so far.

Currently, only about 64% of Hong Kong’s population has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Rates among the elderly population are less than 30%.

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