HONG KONG: The latest wave of COVID-19 infections has "overwhelmed" Hong Kong, the city's leader said on Monday (Feb 14) as daily cases surged by about 20 times over the past two weeks, leaving hospitals short of beds and struggling to cope.
Carrie Lam, the head of the administration in the Chinese ruled city, issued a grim update for residents already subjected to tight restrictions on social gatherings as health authorities reported a record 2,071 infections on Monday, with 4,500 separate preliminary positive cases.
"The onslaught of the fifth wave of the epidemic has dealt a heavy blow to Hong Kong and overwhelmed the city's capacity of handling," Lam said, adding patients were having to wait longer to access isolation facilities.
"The situation is highly undesirable and the government feels worried and sorry about it," she said.
As the caseload soared, Lam said her administration would coordinate with Chinese officials to tackle the "aggravating situation". China has said it would help the city with testing, treatment and quarantine, and secure resources from rapid antigen kits and protective gear to fresh vegetables.
Despite the latest surge, deaths in the global financial hub remain far less than similar-sized cities since the pandemic erupted two years ago.
But, with the healthcare system already overstretched, medical experts warn the city could see 28,000 daily infections by the end of March, with the unvaccinated elderly a particular worry.
Hospital beds for COVID-19 patients are already at 90 per cent occupancy, data from the city's Hospital Authority showed, while isolation facilities are near full capacity.
Hong Kong is prioritising elderly, children and those in serious conditions in hospitals, said Larry Lee, chief manager at the city's Hospital Authority.
There are about 1,000 patients waiting to be hospitalised, authorities said on Monday.
For all the alarm over the latest wave of the pandemic, Hong Kong's total caseload since the pandemic first erupted is about 24,000 infections, including more than 200 deaths, less than many other similar major cities.
Lam said authorities would "spare no effort" to implement the "dynamic zero" coronavirus infection strategy in Hong Kong, which, like China, seeks to curb outbreaks as soon as they occur, in contrast with many other places that are trying to live with COVID-19.
Inside the city, residents are banned from public gatherings of more than two people while most venues including schools, churches and gyms are all shut. Dining in restaurants is banned from 6pm local time and most people are working from home.
The city will extend the suspension of face-to-face classes by two weeks until Mar 7, local broadcaster RTHK said.
Strict flight restrictions have turned Hong Kong into one of the world's most isolated major cities with its borders effectively sealed for around two years.
The city's Legislative Council is due to discuss the injection of HK$27 billion (US$3.46 billion) into an anti-epidemic fund to support businesses and individuals affected by the city's stringent social distancing measures, the government said in a statement.