Hong Kong battens hatches as Omicron tests zero Covid policy

By Mar Sánchez-Cascado

Hong Kong, Feb 11 (EFE).- Hong Kong has gone back to square one in its zero-Covid policy as health authorities reported more than 5,000 cases this week.

The special administrative region has adopted Beijing’s drastic approach to containing the spread of Covid-19 through mass testing, tough quarantines and border closures but the restrictions threaten to damage its economy and status as an international financial hub.

A recent surge in cases fueled by the contagious Omicron variant has prompted Hong Kong authorities to go even further by banning meetings of more than two families in private spaces and two people in public.

Covid-19 tests are required to enter certain establishments and face masks are obligatory in public spaces. Failure to comply with the rules can incur fines of up to $1,283.

Authorities have announced a vaccine passport scheme that will come into force at the end of the month, prohibiting non-vaccinated people from accessing shopping malls, supermarkets and hair salons, among other businesses.

Some 73% of Hongkongers have had a full course of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The special status Chinese territory is witnessing a wave of infections that is pushing hospitals to the limit and saturating its quarantine centers.

Health authorities reported five Covid-19 deaths this week, the first coronavirus-related fatalities in more than six months.

“To win a long-term war you need strategy and planning,” Susan White, a family doctor at a local clinic, told Efe. “The ‘zero infections’ policy is not accompanied by realistic measures that can meet our long-term needs. I believe the fact that in the rest of the world the virus is beginning to be seen as endemic is being ignored.”

Another issue facing the former British colony is hospital capacity, given there is a policy of admitting positive cases regardless of the severity of symptoms.

This is tricky in a city with just 5,000 hospital beds available currently.

“We have a family member who has tested positive, but we haven’t told anyone because we don’t want to be locked up and separated from our children,” Pete Rose, an Australian businessman, told Efe.

“There are people who spend up to 40 days hospitalized, and only have mild symptoms. We are terrified.”

Things could get worse for those opposed to the tough measures should the local government decide to act on the advice of its public health assessor Gabriel Leung, who recently suggested placing all of Hong Kong under a lockdown.

There is a growing frustration among local Hongkongers, expatriates and business owners and the government has come under criticism amid allegations its harsh Covid policies serve little more than to appease the Chinese Communist Party.

“This situation is unsustainable,” Monica Torres, a Peruvian who has lived in Hong Kong for five years, said.

“My husband, like so many other pilots, has lost his job. We are living off savings so that our children can finish the school year but now they have put education on the line.”

“We have to pay 5,000 euros ($5,700) for an 80 square meter apartment and another 2,000 euros on schooling. We feel imprisoned, the psychological pressure is unmanageable.” EFE


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