HONG KONG: Hong Kong reported a record 8,674 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday (Feb 23), as the city prepares for compulsory testing of its residents after authorities extended the toughest social restrictions imposed since the pandemic began.
Health authorities reported 24 deaths compared with Tuesday's 32, as they step up measures, with assistance from their mainland counterparts, to contain the outbreak.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong reported 6,211 new cases.
With the city's testing, treatment and isolation capacity already stretched to the maximum, University of Hong Kong researchers predicted new infections could peak at 180,000 a day next month.
"We are really at the limit," Lau Ka-hin, chief manager for quality and standards of the Hospital Authority, an oversight department, told reporters.
Earlier on Wednesday, Finance Secretary Paul Chan unveiled tax breaks, handouts and subsidies to small businesses and residents, in a 2022-23 Budget that aimed to mitigate the impact of curbs that will last at least until April 20.
With bars, gyms and other businesses already closed and shopping malls deserted while many residents work from home, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that schools would break early for summer and resume the new year in August.
Some school campuses could then be used for testing and isolation as mandatory checks for infections begin next month.
Residents would need to test three times, with the city of 7.4 million able to test about 1 million people a day, Lam said.
Hong Kong media reported that further restrictions were imminent.
Lam's government has adopted a "dynamic zero COVID" strategy which, similarly to mainland China's, aims to eradicate any outbreaks at all costs.
Since 2020, Hong Kong has registered more than 70,000 COVID-19 infections and more than 350 deaths.