Hong Kong’s spike in COVID-19 cases keeps breaking records, causing a medical system overload, transportation services cuts, shortened shopping hours, and suspension of visits to prisoners. As the Hong Kong government evaluates the need for a city-wide lockdown, citizens have started panic buying, and emptying food shelves in supermarkets.
On March 3, Hong Kong reported 56,827 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 144 deaths. It’s the second day in a row that the daily number of infections exceeded 50,000. On March 2, the number surged to 55,353.
Many restaurants and shops are closed, the main financial district is eerily quiet, and few people are on the streets of the usually bustling city.
The rapid worsening of the COVID-19 outbreak has forced subway, bus, and ferry companies, and supermarket chains to cut back on services and operations.
In a statement issued on March 2, Hong Kong’s Transport Department said it would suspend 98 bus routes as a surge in employee infections, strict social distancing measures, and a drop in passenger traffic made it difficult to maintain operations.
Hong Kong’s subway operator, Mass Transit Railway Corporation MTR, said it would cut service on eight lines. “We have been working hard to maintain subway services despite the worsening COVID-19 situation. However, the latest developments in the outbreak are affecting manpower for day-to-day operations,” the MTR Corporation posted on its website.
Two ferry companies that operate between the ports of Hong Kong’s main island and the Kowloon peninsula said they would suspend services until further notice.
ParknShop, one of Hong Kong’s largest supermarket chains, said it would reduce operating hours at more than 200 stores to protect its staff and customers, with some closing as early as 3 p.m.
Hong Kong’s Food and Health Secretary Chen Zhaoshi said on Feb. 28 that the government has not completely ruled out the possibility of implementing a city-wide lockdown, causing many citizens to panic and rush to buy supplies in supermarkets.
Since Feb. 28, supermarkets in Hong Kong saw a rush of people panic buying food and supplies. A large number of people waited in line to check out, and many shelves were bare.
In the past two weeks, a total of about 1,000 inmates in Hong Kong’s prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, and about 1,000 correctional staff were unable to work because they were infected or were classified as being in close contact with an infected person, which seriously affected the daily operations of various correctional institutions. The department of corrections decided to suspend all visits from March 7 to 20.
At present, medical facilities are already overloaded as public hospitals have admitted more than 6,000 COVID-19 patients. The hundreds of thousands of people who were recently diagnosed can only self-isolate at home and wait for admission to a hospital.
Health experts at the University of Hong Kong estimate a peak of about 183,000 daily infections in the coming week.
Lin Zirong contributed to the report.