Xi tells Hong Kong to control Omicron-fuelled outbreak

Comments published in territory’s state-run Chinese language media comes with authorities expected to report record number of daily cases.

Patients lie beneath blankets on hospital beds outside a Hong Kong medical facility with some sitting on chairs,, blankets around their shoulders
People lie in hospital beds outside the Caritas Medical Centre in Hong Kong. The Omicron wave has left some hospitals overwhelmed [Peter Parks/AFP]

China’s President Xi Jinping has told Hong Kong’s government to take “all necessary measures” to bring the territory’s Omicron-fuelled outbreak of COVID-19 under control, according to reports published in pro-Beijing Chinese language media on Wednesday.

The directive increases pressure on authorities who are struggling to contain an outbreak that has overwhelmed some hospitals.

Broadcaster TVB says the territory is set to report a daily record of at least 4,285 new cases on Wednesday.

“The Hong Kong government must take up the main responsibility, to stabilise and control the pandemic as soon as possible as the current overriding priority, to mobilise every resource that can be mobilised, to take all necessary measures,” Xi was quoted as saying in a report by the Wen Wei Po newspaper, which is controlled by the Chinese government.

Xi ordered Vice Premier Han Zheng to relay his “concern about the pandemic situation” to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, according to the front page story, which also appeared in the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao newspaper.

The newspapers said Xi made the remarks recently, but did not specify when or where.

Hong Kong has been pursuing a “Zero COVID” policy, locking down buildings and implementing mandatory testing and stringent quarantines in a bid to reopen its long-closed borders with the mainland, which has also resorted to tough measures to stamp out the virus whenever it appeared.

Lam, who this week admitted the “scale and speed” of the virus’s spread had “overwhelmed” the territory’s efforts to deal with it, said in a statement that the territory was at a “critical juncture” and that her government had submitted “concrete requests for the timely assistance” of the authorities on the mainland.

Support would focus on five areas including Hong Kong’s capacity for nucleic acid testing, the construction of community isolation and treatment facilities, and the provision of medical supplies, she said.

People queue in a line opposite medical workers in full protective equipment to get COVID-19 tests
People queue for COVID-19 tests in Hong Kong’s Yuen Long as the city struggles with a wave of Omicron cases that have stretched its ‘Zero COVID’ policy to the limit [Peter Parks/AFP]

“We are determined to work as a team and spare no effort in fighting this epidemic in order for the people of Hong Kong to resume their normal lives early,” Lam said in the statement.

Zeng Guang, a former chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), earlier told the state-run Global Times newspaper that Hong Kong had to step up its coronavirus measures and build temporary hospitals to cope with the spike in cases.

Another CDC official, who declined to be named, told the paper Hong Kong must achieve the “same level of pandemic control as the mainland”.

COVID cases have surged 20 times on a daily basis since the start of February and Lam has said authorities can no longer keep up with testing and isolation mandates.

Dozens of patients were being treated in makeshift open-air spaces outside medical centres on Tuesday with several hospitals operating at more than 100 percent capacity.

Health authorities reported 1,619 confirmed infections on Tuesday — a daily record — and a further 5,400 preliminary positive cases.

Xi also urged Hong Kong officials “to ensure the safety and health of all Hong Kong residents, to ensure the stability of Hong Kong’s society” the Wen Wei Po reported.

Hong Kong has recorded about 26,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, including just over 200 deaths, far fewer than other similar-sized major cities.

However, medical experts have warned cases could surge to as many as 28,000 a day by the end of March amid worries over high levels of vaccine hesitancy among the territory’s elderly.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies