HONG KONG -- Hong Kong recorded another record daily high of 6,116 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as the city battles its worst outbreak since the pandemic began.
Hospitals are overstretched and running out of beds. There are shocking scenes at some of the city’s public hospitals, with dozens of elderly patients out in the cold and wet weather, waiting for hospital beds in makeshift triage areas.
Microbiologist Siddharth Sridhar described Hong Kong's hospitals as "sandcastles in a tsunami."
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Thursday that the government will consider rolling out COVID-19 testing for all 7.5 million residents, as soon as enough rapid antigen tests are received from mainland authorities.
Lam was speaking with reporters after welcoming mainland experts who have come to Hong Kong to assist with COVID-containment efforts.
Up until now the city has been a poster child for COVID containment. Hong Kong went without any local cases for months last year. And now -- two years into the pandemic -- Hong Kongers are questioning why the city wasn't more prepared for this day to come.
Under a “dynamic zero-infection” strategy, people who test positive cannot currently isolate themselves at home, even if they have mild or no symptoms. As a result, thousands are waiting to be admitted to hospitals or quarantine facilities.
The government is looking at ways to cater for the bottleneck, including the possibility of turning hotels, housing estates and student housing into isolation facilities. There are also talks of building a makeshift mass hospital to cope with the surge, much like the one constructed in 10 days in Wuhan at the very start of the pandemic.
Despite escalating infections in the densely populated city, Lam is doubling down on the city’s no-tolerance approach to the virus.
And the message from Beijing is clear: sort it out.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has told Hong Kong officials to “take all necessary steps” to contain the outbreak -- Hong Kong’s social stability, Xi said, is at stake.
Hong Kong is meant to be holding a leadership election next month, and with the covid situation worsening, it’s not clear whether Lam will survive politically. Some lawmakers have suggested that the small-circle election be postponed.
Currently, only about 64% of Hong Kong’s population has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Rates among the elderly population are less than 30%.
But with temperatures dropping over the weekend and more rain on the way, the outlook is bleak for the city's most vulnerable residents waiting for hospital space.