Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has announced measures targeted at elderly residents as a surge of COVID-19 infections sweeps through care homes with deaths rapidly climbing among the city’s mainly unvaccinated seniors.
The Government will strengthen medical treatment and resources and set up more isolation and temporary care facilities for elderly coronavirus patients, Lam told a media briefing on Wednesday.
She said a date for a compulsory mass testing scheme, which has triggered panic buying of groceries and essentials in the city, was still being considered but the Government had not decided on a timeframe given the huge scale of the operation.
“It is a major exercise which cannot be done overnight,” Lam said.
“If it is not prepared with all the details and mobilised with all the resources, it’s not possible.”
Her comments come after a top Chinese official said Hong Kong had to prioritise reducing infections, severe illnesses and deaths.
Infections in the global financial hub have surged to record highs of more than 500,000 cases and more than 2500 deaths – most in the past two weeks.
The city suffered the most deaths globally per million people in the week to March 7, according to the Our World in Data publication.
China and Hong Kong have adopted a “dynamic zero” strategy that involves eliminating infections with strict mitigation measures as opposed to the approach adopted in other places of relying on high vaccination rates and moderate mitigation like masks in an effort to “live with COVID”.
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has tested both strategies but Hong Kong is now suffering the consequences of a relatively low vaccination rate, especially among the elderly, as the virus rips through the community.
About 90.5 per cent of residents have had at least once vaccination but rates for the elderly have severely lagged with only around 50 per cent for those aged 80 years and above.
Medical experts from the University of Hong Kong have estimated that by the end of April the number of people infected in the city of 7.4 million people could be about 4.3 million, with a death toll of 5000.
Hong Kong’s hospitals, isolation centres and funeral parlours are swamped while public transport, malls, postal services, supermarkets and pharmacies are struggling to operate due to a severe manpower crunch.
Food prices have shot up and supermarket shelves have been emptied every day for a week as shoppers panic buy, on fears of a potential lockdown.