Hong Kong is planning to test every one of its 7.3 million residents for Covid-19 as a spike in Omicron cases threatens to overwhelm its healthcare system.
“The Hong Kong government will strengthen various measures, including making plans for mandatory citywide testing,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a news conference on Friday, adding that mainland China would “support” the testing measures.
The Covid crisis has also forced the postponement of the planned selection of the territory’s next leader. The selection will now take place on the 8th May.
Carrie Lam defended delaying the decision. “The decision is due to Hong Kong facing the most severe situation since the pandemic began two years ago. It is a critical situation,” she told reporters.
“One of the measures that we are planning — planning very seriously — is a mandatory universal testing. So, we will test everyone in Hong Kong,” she said, although she once again ruled out a full city lockdown.
Hong Kong is currently registering thousands of Covid cases a day. Hospitals are reaching breaking point as authorities still require everyone who tests positive to be admitted, under the terms of the Beijing mandated “zero-covid” policy.
Mass testing has been used frequently on the Chinese mainland alongside strict lockdowns to quickly shut down any clusters.
It remains unclear what effect it will have in a city with thousands daily infections and where a mainland-style lockdown would be logistically difficult to implement. It is also not clear where Hong Kong would house and isolate so many positive cases once discovered.
Ms. Lam said the new measures were “in line with the spirit expressed by President Xi Jinping in his important instructions, namely that we must make controlling the epidemic our overriding priority.”
Earlier this week Mr. Xi had called for Hong Kong to take “all necessary measures” to suppress the current outbreak. On Friday authorities announced 11,000 new infections. A day earlier it was 12,000. Prior to the current outbreak, Hong Kong had recorded just 12,000 infections for the whole two-year pandemic.
Authorities have since scrambled to locate thousands of hotel rooms and unused public housing blocks to isolate the infected as well as a location to build a temporary hospital.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: YAHOO NEWS