‘No-COVID’ policy drags on Hong Kong economy as cases surge
HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s Fung Shing Restaurant was bustling this week as clients got here for one final style of the standard Cantonese dim sum that has made it well-known.
With COVID restrictions chopping too deeply into its backside line, the restaurant will shut its doorways for good on Sunday, one other financial sufferer of the pandemic.
Many concern the worst is but to return, nevertheless, with Hong Kong experiencing its most extreme outbreak but, and fret the authorities’ willpower to stay to mainland China’s “zero-COVID” technique could forestall it from recovering as a monetary and journey hub.
“Even though maybe zero-COVID can be reached, there is still uncertainty on how long it can be maintained and what the cost is of maintaining it,” mentioned Natixis senior economist Gary Ng.
“The biggest risk of Hong Kong in 2022 is that it may be entering the path of basically, if not recession, at least a downward drag in economic growth again while the world begins to normalize,” Ng mentioned.
Hong Kong has seen banks shut branches and film theaters have shut down. The streets of fashionable procuring and eating districts are lined with outlets displaying “for rent” indicators. Its worldwide airport is sort of devoid of vacationers.
A ban on onsite eating after 6 p.m., imposed final month, is depriving eating places of of crucial dinner and banquet revenues.
Hong Kong’s each day new cases exceeded 2,000 for the primary time on Monday; on Thursday, 6,116 new cases have been reported.
Hospitals have gotten overwhelmed so town’s trying into changing lodges and even unoccupied public housing into quarantine areas. But it surely exhibits no signal of backing away from matching mainland China’s stringent insurance policies even as the remainder of the world learns to stay with the coronavirus.
As a part of its zero-COVID technique, China has locked down total cities, actually holding folks sequestered of their houses and offering them with meals and provides as they’re remoted throughout in depth testing and call tracing to quell outbreaks.
However China has many cities. Hong Kong, former British colony and semi-autonomous area of China, lacks the assets for such a whole lockdown, which might halt nearly all financial exercise within the metropolis of about 7.5 million.
And folks residing in Hong Kong, which was handed over to communist-ruled China in 1997 underneath a “one country, two systems” strategy, are used to larger freedoms than residents of the mainland. Lock downs of single buildings or metropolis blocks have raised vehement criticism.
Regional rival Singapore faces an analogous wave of coronavirus infections because of the extremely contagious omicron variant. But it surely has opted for a method of “living with COVID.” That requires very excessive vaccination charges and widespread testing. In contrast to Hong Kong, which is requiring individuals who check optimistic to quarantine in hospitals or different authorities amenities, Singapore lets COVID sufferers with gentle or no signs isolate at dwelling.
So whereas Singapore’s well being care system is just not in jeopardy of turning into overwhelmed, Hong Kong hospitals are at 90% capability and a few have needed to deal with sufferers open air for lack of room inside.
Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam exhibits no signal of retreating from the “zero-COVID” stance, saying Thursday that fighting the pandemic was her “paramount task” and town would “not be distracted by other things.”
“We will impose any measures that we should,” she mentioned. “The aim is to make sure Hong Kong people’s lives and health are protected and to uphold Hong Kong’s stability.”
To alleviate some stress on hospitals, officers now say some sufferers with gentle signs will be capable to go away hospitals after simply seven days — half the present requirement — in the event that they check destructive and are usually not residing with any high-risk people.
On the present charge of unfold of infections new each day cases might rise to twenty-eight,000 by March, so it is unclear that might be sufficient.
Alternatively, enjoyable the zero-COVID technique would hinder journey between town and the mainland, the place authorities require three weeks of quarantine or extra. Beijing is not going to reopen Hong Kong’s border with the mainland till town reaches and maintains zero-COVID.
Chinese language chief Xi Jinping mentioned this week that Hong Kong’s “overriding task” was to get management of the state of affairs. Some well being consultants from the mainland arrived Thursday to assist with testing. Beijing additionally despatched antibodies and different assets.
Clients on the Fung Shing Restaurant mentioned they felt powerless.
“I feel so helpless for this restaurant under the pandemic,” mentioned buyer Mo Wan, a 78-year-old who has been an everyday for the previous decade. “I have established a deep friendship with the staff members.”
As much as 3,000 of Hong Kong’s 17,000 eating places might find yourself closing if present restrictions proceed via March, mentioned Michael Leung, chairman of the Affiliation for Hong Kong Catering Companies Administration, which represents 800 restaurant homeowners.
Leung has briefly shuttered his personal restaurant, the Fortunate Dragon Palace.
It is a sprawling institution that might usually seat 1,000 earlier than the pandemic. Leung hopes to carry on, paying the hire and saving on labor and utilities till he can reopen.
“The pandemic is very serious, there’s barely anyone on the street,” he mentioned. “With fewer people going out, it means no business for restaurants. This fifth wave really impacts us terribly. It’s really an ice age for the catering business.”
Janice Lo contributed to this story. Rising reported from Bangkok.