The coronavirus war in Hong Kong heated up on Thursday, with authorities reporting that new cases had doubled by 60 this month, and media reports that testing will become mandatory for everyone in the global financial capital starting in March.
Hospitals are overcrowded, and some patients, particularly the elderly, are left lying on beds outside in frigid, often wet weather, in horrific scenes that forced authorities in the Chinese-controlled city to apologise.
Schools, gyms, theatres, and other public places are closed. Many office workers are able to work from home. Many citizens, however, are tired of the stringent limitations enforced to protect them from the epidemic, even as most other large cities throughout the world learn to living with the virus.
On Thursday, health officials reported a record 6,116 confirmed cases, up from 4,285 the previous day, with an additional 6,300 tentative positive cases. This brings the total since January to almost 16,600. They reported 24 more fatalities.
The increase in cases is the most severe test yet of the city’s “dynamic zero-COVID” strategy, but Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, stressed this week that the city “cannot surrender to the virus.”
According to some media reports citing undisclosed sources, the government intends to test up to one million individuals each day beginning in March, and those who fail to comply will be fined HK$10,000 ($1,282).
A request for comment was not responded to by the government.
“Because of the large number of cases, we need to expedite admission to hospitals and community isolation centres,” said Chui Tak-yi, undersecretary for food and health. “The administration is attempting to alleviate all of these obstacles.”
Authorities said that quarantine facilities had surpassed capacity and that hospital beds were more than 90% filled. Lam announced late Wednesday that she had contacted with local hotel owners and planned to make up to 10,000 hotel rooms available for COVID-19 patients in an effort to free up beds for isolation.