WHEN WE TOOK the same snapshot of Hong Kong’s Covid-19 infections just four days ago, the figure for the seven-day rolling average for daily new confirmed cases was 600. It is now more than 1,000.
More than 6,000 new cases were reported on February 22. That is half as many as were recorded over the first two years of the pandemic.
Hong Kong University’s disease modellers’ latest forecast is that infections could peak at 180,000 a day by mid-May, and the death toll top 3,000, ten times the current total. The city’s under-inoculated and vaccine-hesitant elderly population is particularly vulnerable.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, is stating the obvious when she says that the quickly worsening epidemic has far exceeded her administration’s ability to tackle it.
The city has tried to follow Beijing’s zero-tolerance policy to contain the virus without the draconian lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing deployed on the mainland.
However, with the city’s hospitals and quarantine facilities now overwhelmed by the Omicron variant, Lam has ordered all of the city’s 7.5 million inhabitants to undergo three rounds of mandatory PCR testing starting in mid-March.
The conclusion to be inevitably drawn is that hundreds of thousands if not millions of Hongkongers could be in isolation within weeks. Mass testing also risks diverting resources from the urgent work of vaccinating the elderly.
The rapidity with which the Omicron variant has overwhelmed the city’s public health defences has alarmed Beijing for all the obvious reasons. It is just one of the reasons that it is taking control of Hong Kong’s response and shipping in expertise and additional quarantine facilities, isolation wards and hospital capacity.