Hong Kong has turned newly built public housing and 10,000 hotel rooms into quarantine accommodation as authorities scramble to control an outbreak of Omicron that has overwhelmed the city.
Recent days have seen daily records of more than 2,000 cases, but experts have warned the outbreak could reach around 30,000 a day. Hospitals, testing facilities and isolation centers have already been overwhelmed, with local media publishing photos of overflow tents set up in hospital parking lots.
Thousands of people infected with Covid-19 are on a waiting list for isolation rooms, with another 5,400 preliminary positive cases reported Tuesday morning.
The decision to reallocate social housing in Fanling and Kwai Chung will accommodate more than 3,000 people, chief executive Carrie Lam said. This reflects a decision in February 2020 to convert a newly built block in Sha Tin, voiding a pledge not to reallocate wanted social housing and triggering small protests.
Hotel rooms were not yet identified and Lam warned she had emergency legal powers to compel hotels if they did not cooperate sufficiently.
Lam also said there were “no plans” for widespread citywide shutdowns, instead continuing with localized district-level and area-specific shutdowns.
Although the city’s fifth wave of infection has “exceeded our capacity”, Lam said the government remains committed to fully containing the outbreak, unlike many other countries which have since abandoned “zero Covid” strategies after being affected by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron. .
“It’s not an option to surrender to the virus,” Lam said.
The government last week ended its policy of sending all diagnosed cases to hospital for isolation, opening wards in the Penny’s Bay quarantine facility for those who are mild or asymptomatic to recover.
To address a backlog of PCR tests created by mandatory testing orders that have sent hundreds of thousands of residents into hour-long queues, Lam also announced authorities would begin handing out rapid test kits on Tuesday. 100 million, starting with the staff of retirement homes for the elderly.
The government has set up task forces to work with their mainland counterparts after China’s central government offered the city help in fighting its outbreak. The new working groups will focus on epidemiology, boosting testing capacity, securing medical and food supplies, and building isolation and treatment facilities.
Hong Kong has produced one of the most effective responses in the world during the pandemic, but has been criticized for both inconsistency and harshness, and even sparked a rare protest on Tuesday. The city is once again under severe social restrictions not seen since mid-2020, with near-daily additions or changes.
Vaccination rates remain relatively low, especially among the elderly, and there is little transparency from the government on the proportion of different vaccines used amid concerns about the effectiveness of China-developed Sinovac. Less than 15% of the adult population received a short recall.