Hong Kong ‘can’t afford to lose’ fight against COVID outbreak

HONG KONG, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Friday it would take up to three months to stabilize a worsening COVID-19 pandemic that has overwhelmed healthcare facilities and forced the postponement of a future leadership election. Read more

“Our government needs to focus on the outbreak,” Lam told a news conference after a week that has seen daily infections jump 60% so far this month. It “cannot be hijacked…we cannot afford to lose,” she said.

Quarantine facilities in Hong Kong have reached capacity and hospital beds are more than 95% full as cases surge, with some patients, including the elderly, left on beds outside in cold and sometimes rainy weather.

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The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who backs a “dynamic zero-COVID” strategy, said controlling the spread was Hong Kong’s “primary mission”. Read more

Lam said Hong Kong’s daily caseload had yet to peak and plans were being made for a mandatory testing program covering the whole territory.

A citywide lockdown was not planned, she said.

Global banks HSBC and Standard Chartered said some branches were closed on Friday after several employees were infected.

Hong Kong reported 3,629 new daily COVID-19 infections on Friday, with an additional 7,600 preliminary positive cases.

Authorities reported 10 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to more than 240, still well below other major cities around the world.

The hospital authority said it aims to move all patients currently lying outdoors in open-air beds indoors by Friday evening ahead of an expected drop in temperature to around 10C (50 °F).

At the Caritas Medical Center on the Kowloon Peninsula, Lam Foon, 98, sat Thursday in soggy woolen blankets on a hospital bed in the parking lot, awaiting tests to confirm a preliminary positive result for COVID-19. Read more

“I don’t feel so good,” she told Reuters through a surgical mask, next to a similarly wrapped patient wearing a mask and face shield.

Doctor Trevor Chung, 29, said the government had underestimated the situation.

“I expect things to get worse,” he said. “There are a lot of old people in this neighborhood, and a lot of them aren’t vaccinated.”

HOTELS ROOMS

On Friday, Lam said Hong Kong had identified more than 20,000 hotel rooms for quarantine accommodation, with property developers crowding in to show their support.

Lam said 21 hotels had expressed interest in turning their facilities into places of isolation, “far exceeding the government’s initial target of 7,000 to 10,000 rooms”.

CK Asset Holdings, owned by billionaire Li Ka-shing, said it would provide more than 3,000 hotel rooms in four hotels. Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) (0016.HK) said it could supply 1,000 rooms. The two developers said they would run a government promotional video about vaccine passports in its major malls.

New World Development (0017.HK) said it plans to provide around 700 rooms, while Henderson Land Development (0012.HK) said its founding family Lee would donate HK$10 million ($1.3 million dollars) to send anti-epidemic materials to nursing homes, among others.

Reuters reported in September that Beijing had given powerful real estate moguls in the global financial center a new mandate, telling them to devote resources and influence to supporting Beijing’s interests. Read more

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Reporting by Joyce Zhou, Clare Jim, Twinnie Siu, Marius Zaharia in Hong Kong and Anshuman Daga in Singapore; Written by Anne Marie Roantree, Farah Master and Greg Torode; Editing by Stephen Coates, Gerry Doyle, Kim Coghill and Nick Macfie

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