HONG KONG — In slightly below two months, Hong Kong went from being top-of-the-line locations on the planet at controlling coronavirus illness 2019 (COVID-19) to one of many worst.
Deaths have skyrocketed, the well being system is swamped, morgues are overflowing and public confidence within the city authorities is at an all-time low.
Whereas the federal government sticks to a “zero-COVID” coverage just like that of mainland China, city chief Carrie Lam hinted on Thursday she might ease restrictions amid considerations over the city’s standing as a worldwide monetary hub.
However with infections spilling over on to the mainland and native instances hovering round 30,000 per day amongst a inhabitants of simply 7.4 million, there must be a transparent exit technique, in keeping with studying to reside with the virus, like different main cities, relatively than making an attempt to eradicate it, well being experts say.
Densely populated Hong Kong has registered probably the most deaths per million folks globally in latest weeks — greater than 24 instances that of rival Singapore — because of a big proportion of aged who had been unvaccinated as the extremely transmissible Omicron variant ripped through care properties since February.
The tragedy might have been averted had, experts say, authorities provided incentives for vaccinations and used medical assets extra successfully to arrange for COVID-19, which was first recognized in late 2019 within the central Chinese language city of Wuhan.
“The disaster unfolding within our hospital system is predictable, preventable, and political,” mentioned Dr. David Owens, a founding father of OT&P clinics and an honorary scientific assistant professor in household medication on the College of Hong Kong.
Ms. Lam’s administration has been lambasted repeatedly by politicians, pro-Beijing media and on Chinese language social media, simply weeks earlier than the city is because of maintain an election on Might 8 to decide on who will lead the territory for the following 5 years.
Companies and residents are pissed off at what they see as fixed combined messaging from the federal government and measures which have closely disrupted enterprise and broken the economic system for a lot of the previous two years.
Tens of 1000’s have left, with web outflows displaying an exodus of greater than 45,000 folks to this point in March, in contrast with almost 17,000 in December earlier than the fifth wave of the pandemic hit, prompting fears for Hong Kong’s longer-term competitiveness.
LIVING WITH COVID
Ms. Lam has but to offer steerage for how Hong Kong can resume some semblance of normality, regardless of each day press briefings the place she discusses particulars from sewage testing to thanking mainland authorities for their help. The previous British colony returned to Chinese language rule in 1997.
“Hong Kong was certainly not ready when we entered into the fifth wave as evidently shown, but let’s see whether we can get better prepared for that eventuality of that transition towards normality,” mentioned Gabriel Leung, College of Hong Kong’s dean of medication and a authorities adviser on the pandemic.
Mr. Leung mentioned Hong Kong needed to determine whether or not it was going to stay with its “zero-COVID” coverage, or attempt to reside with it as an endemic.
“We need to be doing all that heavy thinking process now. Because you have to make plans accordingly.”
Even when the federal government had been to stay with zero-COVID by mass testing and intensive contact tracing, Hong Kong would nonetheless must transition to dwelling with the virus finally, the experts mentioned.
About half of the city’s residents have probably already been contaminated, in response to a examine from the College of Hong Kong this week.
Growing vaccinations to over 90% from about 80% at the moment is vital, whereas defending probably the most weak, like these in nursing properties, the experts mentioned. Presently solely 56% of these over 80 have been vaccinated.
With residents growing immunity from vaccinations and infections, it’s probably that future outbreaks shall be much less extreme, mentioned Dr. Siddharth Sridhar, scientific assistant professor of Microbiology on the College of Hong Kong.
“So that gives us a certain degree of freedom in terms of opening up more and having more reasonable travel restrictions that what we have seen before.”
Hong Kong has applied its most draconian measures for the reason that pandemic started in 2020.
Flights from 9 international locations, together with america and Britain, are banned. Inbound vacationers who take a look at damaging on arrival should keep in a resort for 14 days, a harsher rule than for an contaminated resident who must isolate for seven days till testing damaging.
Each guidelines haven’t any scientific foundation and needs to be lifted instantly, some experts mentioned.
Social distancing measures, such as a ban on public gatherings of greater than two folks, the closure of most venues and a curfew on restaurant eating previous 6 p.m., may be progressively relaxed, mentioned epidemiologist Ben Cowling.
Hong Kong might intention to do what Singapore has accomplished in order that after “three to six months, where all those measures have been relaxed, it is simply up to individuals to manage their own risks and there is no need for community-wide policies.” — Farah Grasp/Reuters