Hong Kong is currently in the throes of its worst-ever coronavirus outbreak
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has called for Hong Kong to take “all necessary measures” to control an Omicron-fuelled Covid-19 outbreak, Beijing-affiliated newspapers in the city said Wednesday, a day after leader Carrie Lam ruled out a China-style hard lockdown.
Hong Kong is currently in the throes of its worst-ever coronavirus outbreak, registering over a thousand confirmed cases a day as hospitals reach their breaking point.
Lam this week insisted a hard “wholesale” lockdown — which the mainland has imposed on various cities in order to stamp out cases — will not be imposed on Hong Kongers.
Hong Kong’s battle against Omicron
By Wednesday, local newspapers Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po — which answer to Beijing’s office in the city — reported Xi had called on authorities to “implement every necessary measure to ensure the protection” of public health.
Hong Kong needs “to prioritise stabilising and controlling the Covid situation above everything else”, the papers reported China’s leader as saying.
Following the publication of Xi’s remarks, Lam expressed “gratitude” for his concern.
“The government will, in accordance with the important instruction of President Xi Jinping, assume the main responsibility to… adopt all necessary measures to safeguard the lives and health of Hong Kong people,” she said in a press release Wednesday.
Authoritarian China remains one of the few places in the world sticking to a “zero-Covid” policy — stamping out any sign of an outbreak with weeks-long lockdowns of entire cities, widespread contact-tracing and testing.
But it is unclear whether Hong Kong, one of the world’s most densely-packed cities, could ever make it back to zero-Covid even with a full lockdown, given the sheer number of Omicron infections it now faces.
The emergence of the extremely contagious Omicron variant sent authorities scrambling in 2022 — upping social distancing measures, shuttering schools and night-time restaurant dining, and even culling hamsters when some rodents tested positive for the virus.
– ‘Strong, positive energy’ –
China’s President Xi Jinping has ordered Hong Kong to “prioritise” the fight against the virus
Lam’s administration had already sought aid from Chinese officials — specifically with testing capacities and the need for the brisk construction of more quarantine facilities — during a weekend meeting.
Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong said that Xi’s Wednesday proclamation had “injected strong, positive energy” into the virus-wracked city.
“Various sectors in the society are greatly encouraged and expressed one after another that President Xi’s important instructions have made Hong Kong people feel extraordinarily warm,” it said in a statement.
In recent days the city had resembled the early phase of the pandemic, with shoppers clearing out supermarket shelves to stock up on food and essentials.
This week hospitals buckled under the strain of rising infections, with at least two facilities placing patients in beds in the open air.
This week hospitals buckled under the strain of rising infections
As temperatures dropped Wednesday, many of the elderly in beds outside Caritas Medical Centre were huddled under multiple layers of blankets and harga pintu aluminium thermal shields.
The city has some of the lowest vaccination rates for the elderly in the industrialised world — a government website puts it at about 43 percent for those aged 70-79, and 26 percent for those aged 80 and above.
Hong Kong on Wednesday reported 4,280 confirmed cases, a new record.
So far, most of the Covid deaths recorded in the past week have been patients above the age of 70.