Hong Kong Hospitals Struggle as Virus Cases Surge

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
February 16, 2022 Updated: February 16, 2022

Hong Kong—Hospitals in Hong Kong were struggling Wednesday to keep up with an influx of new coronavirus patients amid record numbers of new infections as the city doggedly adheres to its “zero-COVID” strategy.

Hong Kong is facing its worst outbreak of the pandemic, topping 2,000 new COVID-19 cases each day this week.

Health authorities reported a record 4,285 confirmed new infections on Feb. 16, and another 7,000 preliminary positive cases.

The city government has already instituted strict rules banning gatherings of more than two households.

But health care facilities are beginning to overflow, forcing the city’s Caritas Medical Center on Wednesday to treat some patients in beds outside the building.

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Patients lay in beds as they wait at a temporary holding area outside Caritas Medical Centre in Hong Kong on Feb. 16, 2022. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping said the local government’s “overriding task” was to control the situation.

The Chinese regime has maintained a strict “zero-tolerance” policy that involves total lockdowns, extensive contact tracing, and mass testing millions of people. The strategy seeks to contain outbreaks as soon as they are detected.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has stuck to the policy despite geographical and other differences between Hong Kong and other parts of China. Last week, the entire upscale Discovery Bay neighborhood in Hong Kong was ordered to undergo testing after authorities found traces of the virus in its sewage.

The comments from Xi were the latest pressure from Beijing for her to stay the course.

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People, including current hospital patients, showing COVID-19 symptoms wait at a temporary holding area outside Caritas Medical Centre in Hong Kong on Feb. 16, 2022. (Vincent Yu/AP Photo)

Thousands of people in the city have tested positive for COVID-19 and are waiting to be admitted into hospitals or isolation facilities, said Dr. Sara Ho, the chief manager for patient safety and risk management at the Hong Kong Hospital Authority.

“This situation is undesirable. Therefore, we are looking for ways with the government to set up more isolation facilities. We hope to shorten the patients’ waiting time,” she added.

People who test positive are required to quarantine either in hospitals if they have serious symptoms or in government-run facilities for light or asymptomatic cases. The record number of new cases, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, has led to the current overcrowding.

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Patients wrapping in emergency thermal blankets wait at a temporary holding area outside Caritas Medical Centre in Hong Kong on Feb. 16, 2022. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Some Hong Kong residents expressed concerns about the government’s response to the outbreak.

“The reason why our society has become chaotic like this today is all because of this policy. The organizational skill of the government has made Hong Kong people feel so hopeless,” said Daisy Ho, a 70-year-old housewife.

Yancey Yau, a 40-year-old construction worker, said the city’s hospital workers are facing heavy stress.

“They are working so hard. But the government is not doing what they should do,” Yau said. “The hospital workers are just miserable. I hope more citizens will support them. I don’t have any hope for this government.”

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Residents line up to get tested for the coronavirus at a temporary testing center for COVID-19, in Hong Kong on Feb. 15, 2022. (Kin Cheung/AP Photo)

Reuters contributed to this report.