Hospitals overflow as Hong Kong faces ‘tsunami’ of COVID-19 cases

The Special Administrative Region (SAR) reported 7,000 cases while at least 10,000 patients are awaiting admission into hospitals.

February 15, 2022 09:51 pm | Updated 09:55 pm IST - Hong Kong:

Patients lie in bed at an area outside a hospital, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China February 15, 2022.

Patients lie in bed at an area outside a hospital, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China February 15, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Hong Kong’s government said on Tuesday it was facing “a tsunami” of new COVID-19 cases that had overwhelmed its hospitals and left more than 10,000 people waiting for treatment.

“A tsunami of new cases has far exceeded the enhanced capacities of Hong Kong on various fronts including testing, tracing, quarantine, isolation and treatment,” a statement from the government said, adding that hospitals “are facing immense pressure, and cannot admit all cases tested preliminarily positive or confirmed for COVID-19.”

The Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) on Tuesday reported a record 7,000 cases (1,600 confirmed and 5,400 preliminary positives) while reports said some 10,000 patients were awaiting transfer to hospitals.

With the surge in cases, authorities said they will send mild cases to empty housing blocks that are being arranged as well as to hotels to ease the strain on hospitals while prioritising treatment for the elderly and young.

Authorities this week are also finalising plans to build a temporary hospital along the lines of the temporary “ark hospitals” built in Wuhan at the start of the pandemic.

The current wave – the worst in Hong Kong in two years since the start of the pandemic – fuelled by the Omicron variant has seen more than 15,000 cases in the last two weeks and at least 12 deaths, shattering the “zero COVID” strategy that had enabled Hong Kong to avoid a major second wave as in much of the world, in part due to continued international travel restrictions and mass testing and tracing to quickly curb local clusters.

That strategy has not worked in the face of the Omicron surge and the case numbers are expected to rise in coming days because of a backlog in testing. Microbiologist Ho Pak-leung of the University of Hong Kong told the South China Morning Post “case reporting was probably suffering from a three to four day lag”. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in an address said the situation was “highly undesirable” and the government was “sorry”.

The newspaper quoted analysts as saying the “management of the pandemic” was “a key test of the chief executive’s ability to lead Hong Kong”, with her five-year term coming to an end this year and continuing uncertainty whether she will stay for another term or if Beijing may prefer to back an alternative. The Hong Kong government said it is expecting assistance from the mainland to deal with the current crisis, including help to quickly ramp up testing capacity.

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