Hong Kong reports record cases; movements may be restricted

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Patients in hospital beds wait in a temporary holding area outside Caritas Medical Centre in Hong Kong , Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Some people are forced to wait outside the hospital due to it currently being overloaded with possible COVID-infected patients. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s leader on Wednesday said people's movements may be restricted during mandatory testing this month of the entire population for the coronavirus, as health officials reported a record 55,353 daily infections and over a hundred deaths.

Chief executive Carrie Lam said authorities are still refining the plan, but that there would be no “complete” lockdown that would prevent entry and exit from the city.

“The extent of it must take into account Hong Kong’s circumstances and people’s needs,” she told reporters.

Hong Kong is planning to test its more than 7 million residents as it grapples with soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases in its worst outbreak of the pandemic, linked largely to the omicron variant.

Officials on Wednesday reported 117 deaths, taking the total number above 1,000. About 80% of the deaths have occurred since late December. Most involved elderly patients who were not fully vaccinated.

“We recorded about 55,000 infections today, which is within our expectation. Recently every two or three days the number of confirmed cases is doubling,” said Albert Au, a health officer with the Centre for Health Protection. He said cases have not yet peaked.

U.S. authorities on Wednesday warned Americans against traveling to Hong Kong, with the State Department raising its travel advisory to Level 4 — Do Not Travel — because of rising cases and restrictions imposed by the city and mainland China under their “zero-tolerance” policy toward the coronavirus.

“We especially want to note for families considering traveling to or residing in Hong Kong that in some cases, children in Hong Kong who test positive have been separated from their parents and kept in isolation until they meet local hospital discharge requirements,” the travel advisory said.

The surge is threatening to overwhelm Hong Kong’s hospitals, with officials saying they have reached maximum bed capacity and some general wards are being converted into isolation areas.

Public mortuaries have also reached full capacity, and help is being sought from the private sector to store bodies, officials say. The Hospital Authority has also ordered refrigerated containers to temporarily store bodies, health officials said.

Supermarket shelves were wiped bare this week as residents stockpiled daily necessities after reports spread of a possible citywide lockdown. Authorities have called for calm and reassured people that food supplies are normal.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin backed Hong Kong's virus control measures.

Wang said the measures “are necessary, science-based and responsible to effectively prevent and control the epidemic and ensure the health of Hong Kong residents and foreigners in Hong Kong.”

"We believe that the relevant measures will further build up the international community’s confidence in Hong Kong’s epidemic control, ensure Hong Kong’s safe and orderly interaction with the international community, and provide a more secure and stable business environment for international investors in Hong Kong,” Wang said at a daily briefing Wednesday.