Hong Kong reports record COVID cases, seeks China support

Pedestrians wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak walk on a street at Causeway Bay district in Hong Kong, China February 9, 2022. REUTERS/Joyce Zhou

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HONG KONG, Feb 12 (Reuters) – Hong Kong reported a record 1,514 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, as officials struggling to contain an expanding outbreak despite the most stringent restrictions yet met across the border to discuss support from China.

Hong Kong and mainland China are among few places in the world still aiming to suppress every COVID-19 outbreak instead of trying to live with the virus, but the Omicron variant has proven tough to keep under control in the global financial hub.

New infections were up from Friday’s 1,325, and another 1,500 or so came out positive in preliminary tests which may be added to the count in the near future. Three people died.

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“This is the toughest battle against the virus of the past two years,” Edwin Tsui, controller of the Centre for Health Protection, told reporters.

“Please stay at home. We need your cooperation.”

Hong Kong’s chief secretary John Lee, Health Secretary Sophia Chan and Security Chief Chris Tang were in neighbouring Shenzhen on Saturday, to discuss support measures with Chinese officials.

The measures are expected to include the provision of millions of testing kits and assistance to build more quarantine facilities and potentially a makeshift hospital, as medical capacity becomes stretchedon all fronts.

Hospital beds for COVID-19 patients are already at around 90% occupancy, while isolation facilities were also nearing their maximum, authorities said.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to test every day, including the elderly and children, queuing for hours in tightly packed lines outside overwhelmed testing centres.

University of Hong Kong epidemiologists say the number of infections could reach tens of thousands a day in a matter of weeks, posing a major risk for the city’s elderly, many of whom are not vaccinated after Hong Kong’s success at keeping the virus at bay for much of the pandemic led to a sense of complacency.

Infections were recorded in some 42 elder care homes, Tsui said.

Some epidemiologists say only a full mainland-style lockdown for around two months could bring the infection count back to zero, but warn this would not be a definitive fix as Omicron could find its way back into the city again soon after.

In a pre-recorded interview with local broadcaster Now TV published late on Friday, Health Secretary Chan said she did not want to impose a lockdown and that it was preferable that residents “do it themselves” by staying at home.

Hong Kong has recorded more than 20,000 infections and just over 200 deaths since the start of the pandemic, far fewer than in most other places, but at significant economic and psychological cost.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most isolated large cities, with flights 90% down, and hardly any allowed to transit.

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Additional reporting by Jessie Pang; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.