The Hong Kong government plans to make up to 10,000 hotel rooms available for COVID-19 patients as the city battles a surge in cases and local media reported the government will make testing compulsory from March.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam renewed an appeal for support from the global financial hub’s 7.5 million people, many of whom are fatigued by some of the world’s most stringent restrictions even as most other major cities adjust to living with the virus.
Daily infections have surged by more than 40 times since the start of February and authorities have shut schools, gyms cinemas and most public venues. Many office employees have reverted to working from home.
Lam’s comments, in a statement released late on Wednesday, came after Chinese President Xi Jinping told Hong Kong’s leaders their “overriding mission” was to stabilise and control the coronavirus in the global financial hub.
“With the utmost concern and staunch support of President Xi Jinping…all in society must now join hands in riding out the fifth wave of the epidemic, displaying the Hong Kong spirit in full,” she said.
“I am optimistic that, through the joint efforts by the Government and hotel sector, at least 10,000 hotel rooms could be made available.”
In a move to free up beds for isolation, Lam said she had spoken with local hotel owners and security chief Chris Tang would oversee the operation of participating hotels.
Hong Kong was expected to report around 5,000 new cases on Thursday, Now TV reported, up from the previous day’s record high of 4,285 confirmed infections and an additional 7,000 preliminary positive cases.
Some media reports, citing sources, said the government planned to test up to one million people each day from March and those who failed to comply would be fined HK$10,000 ($1,282).
The government did not respond to a request for comment.
Hong Kong has adopted the same ‘dynamic zero’ coronavirus strategy, employed by mainland China to suppress all outbreaks.
But the scale and speed of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus has left authorities scrambling. Hospitals are operating at maximum or over capacity with some patients treated in makeshift open air spaces outside medical centres in chilly and rainy weather.
Authorities said they could no longer keep up their testing and isolation mandates, resulting in a backlog that could not keep pace with the daily infection numbers.
China has said it would help Hong Kong bolster its testing, treatment and quarantine capacity, and secure resources from rapid antigen kits and protective gear to fresh vegetables.
Hong Kong has recorded around 30,000 infections since the start of the pandemic, and around 230 deaths, far fewer than other similar sized major cities.
However, medical experts have warned daily cases could surge to 28,000 by the end of March amid worries about high levels of vaccine hesitancy among the elderly.
($1 = 7.8006 Hong Kong dollars)