Hong Kong has ‘no plans’ for full lockdown, city’s leader insists

Carrie Lam says ‘scale and speed of the spread of the virus’ has overwhelmed authorities.

Carrie Lam
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said the city has no plans for a citywide lockdown despite rapidly rising coronavirus cases [File: Jerome Favre/EPA]

Hong Kong’s leader said the city had no plans for a citywide lockdown to help bring cases back to zero, even as she acknowledged that a growing omicron outbreak has exceeded its capacity to respond.

“The scale and speed of the spread of the virus has overwhelmed our capacity in the fight against the pandemic,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday at a regular news briefing. “The situation is very serious.”

Hong Kong will announce about 1,510 confirmed Covid-19 cases Tuesday, local media reported, citing people they didn’t identify. The city will also report 5,400 preliminary positive cases.

However, Lam added that Hong Kong will continue with district-based lockdowns of specific buildings or neighborhoods to launch targeted Covid testing blitzes.

“The district-based restriction has been adopted for many, many months now,” she said, noting that Hong Kong has conducted more than 100 such operations. “We prohibit people from leaving the building until everybody has been tested and the results have been disclosed.”

The Asian financial hub is searching for more hotels to use as isolation facilities and hopes to procure around 10,000 rooms from the hospitality industry, Lam told reporters as she stood before a backdrop that read “Together, We Race Against the Aggravating Epidemic.”

She said the city needs more isolation facilities, and that she could use pandemic-era emergency powers to compel hotels to participate.

After successfully preventing any widespread outbreaks for roughly two years, Hong Kong is grappling with its worst daily Covid caseloads of the entire pandemic — with cases still rising exponentially every day. The situation has prompted near-daily policy shifts as the city’s authorities struggle to boost capacity for the meticulous contact-tracing, isolation and quarantine measures that have largely kept the city safe until now.

The rising cases, made even more dangerous by low vaccination rates among the elderly, are also challenging a strict Covid Zero approach to eliminating the local spread of the virus that Hong Kong has borrowed from mainland China.

Hong Kong’s current social distancing rules aren’t enough to bring the city’s record-setting Covid wave under control, and nearly 1,000 residents may die by mid-June if there aren’t changes, according to researchers from the University of Hong Kong.

Lam said city officials “have the will” to maintain a “dynamic zero” strategy of no infections as it struggles to contain a growing outbreak of the highly transmissible omicron variant. She added that she asked mainland China for help with testing.

“We cannot surrender to the virus,” Lam said. “This is not an option.”

On Monday, health authorities announced 2,071 cases as well as 4,500 preliminary infections. Rising cases have exceeded the capacity of the city’s health system, with data on Tuesday showing many of the city’s hospitals are at 100% capacity for inpatient beds.

Officials have said they are shifting to prioritize care for the elderly and children who get Covid.

Authorities said thousands of people are waiting to be hospitalized and a backlog at its testing facilities means there is a delay in confirming positive cases.

Lam said the city is also considering bringing in daily necessities from China by sea as it grapples with shortages of vegetables and other items after hundreds of cross-border truckers were quarantined as a result of virus control measures.

Source: Bloomberg