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Mainland helps Hong Kong fight its worst pandemic wave
As a fifth COVID-19 wave overwhelms HKSAR capacity, mainland steps in
By Ji Jing  ·  2022-02-28  ·   Source: NO.9 MARCH 3, 2022

Residents line up to receive their COVID-19 vaccine shots in Hong Kong on February 22 (XINHUA)

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, with the number of cases being reported in the past month higher than the total number of cases detected in the previous two years. As of February 1, a total of 13,829 confirmed cases and 213 deaths had been reported in the region since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, yet the numbers rose to 32,538 and 385 respectively as of February 23, according to data from the National Health Commission of China. Most of the newly added cases are local.

The spokesperson for the Center for Health Protection (CHP) of the HKSAR's Department of Health stressed that "the local situation of COVID-19 infection became severe recently and there is a continuous increase in the number of cases involving mutant strains that carry higher transmissibility." The CHP said on February 23 that among the 8,674 additional cases who tested positive for the coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, only three were not local.

Impact on daily life

He Liangliang, a media professional in Hong Kong, told on February 19 that the pandemic hadn't had a big impact on his life and work, and his residential compound hadn't been seriously affected either. However, he said the situation is not optimistic. There are fewer cars on the road and fewer people out in the streets.

"Many are working from home," he said.

Xiao Ling, who comes from the mainland and works in Hong Kong's media industry, has been at home for nearly two weeks. She has been working from home and ordering food online since early February.

In the seven months before the current fifth wave of the pandemic in Hong Kong, the region had been cleared of sporadically locally-transmitted COVID-19 cases multiple times.

A woman from the mainland working for a financial firm in Hong Kong, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told that when she returned to the mainland a year ago, she had to undergo a 14-day hotel quarantine. The woman said she had hoped to go home for the Spring Festival this year without needing to quarantine, however, her hopes were dashed by the new outbreak.

The surge in confirmed cases has also added pressure to the region's medical resources and other supplies.

According to Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, this wave of infections is chiefly caused by the Omicron BA 2 variant of the virus, which can spread 1.5 to 2 times faster than the initial highly transmissible Omicron strain.

Such is the speed of transmission that the latest wave of the virus threatens to overwhelm the region's capacity to handle the caseload, Carrie Lam, HKSAR Chief Executive, said on February 15 when meeting the press.

The construction site of a prefabricated hospital at Yuen Long in Hong Kong on February 22 (XINHUA)

Strong support

On February 12, a delegation from the HKSAR Government, led by Chief Secretary for Administration John Lee Ka-chiu, met with representatives of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, and national health experts, as well as officials from the Guangdong Provincial Government and Shenzhen Municipal Government, to outline the assistance the region needed.

After the meeting, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council announced that the Central Government and Guangdong Provincial Government would adopt "all necessary measures" to support the HKSAR in containing the spread of the virus and stabilizing the situation.

On February 17, four epistemological experts from the mainland arrived in Hong Kong to help the region trace the spread of the virus and evaluate the risks of transmission in order to control its further spread. Eight nucleic acid testing staff members and two mobile COVID-19 test vehicles also entered the region.

Two days later, a 114-member team landed in Hong Kong, including four medical experts specializing in treating critical cases, four administrative staff members and 106 nucleic acid sampling personnel.

Two "Fire-Eye" labs, in which nucleic acid tests are carried out in air-bag rooms, have also been sent to Hong Kong from the mainland, increasing the region's daily testing capability from 100,000 to 300,000.

Mainland agencies have also helped Hong Kong build two prefabricated hospitals, which provide nearly 10,000 isolated units for quarantine and treatment. The construction was undertaken by China State Construction International Holdings Ltd.

At the ceremony for starting the construction of the two hospitals, Lam said lack of quarantine and treatment facilities is one of the biggest problems facing Hong Kong in the fight against the virus. "Such facilities can accommodate asymptomatic carriers or mild cases to stop the chain of transmission and prevent the virus from spreading in communities," she said.

On February 22, construction began on four temporary mobile-cabin hospitals, which will together provide 14,000 to 17,000 quarantine units.

Medical and other supplies are also being transported from the mainland to Hong Kong to support the region's battle against the virus. On February 20, a first batch of 150,000 boxes of anti-pandemic traditional Chinese medicine donated by the mainland was transported to Hong Kong and another 300,000 boxes will be sent to the region. The first batch of 25 million KN95 masks, too, has reached Hong Kong. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau Tang-wah, who led a task force to ensure medical supplies, including coordinating medical supplies from the mainland to Hong Kong, said the HKSAR Government is grateful to the Central Government's strong support for the region's anti-pandemic efforts. He added that by leveraging the central authorities' guidance based on their experiences in pandemic management, as well as their manpower and resource support, the HKSAR Government will spare no effort in combating the fifth wave of the pandemic.

To improve early detection, quarantine and treatment ability, the HKSAR Government is purchasing 100 million rapid antigen test kits and the first delivery of 10 million test kits provided by the mainland arrived in Hong Kong on February 19.

In addition, Guangdong Provincial Government and Shenzhen Municipal Government have kept close contact with HKSAR authorities to ensure supplies of fresh food and daily necessities.

To raise the vaccination rate, the HKSAR Government has expanded the "vaccine pass" program to government venues and 23 other types of premises, including shopping malls, supermarkets, wet markets, hair salons, religious establishments, and nightclubs starting from February 24. Residents over the age of 12 who visit these public places are required to have received at least their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The policy and spread of the virus have prompted more residents to get their shots.

According to statistics from the Department of Health, 100,991 people were vaccinated on February 18, some 44,000 of whom were inoculated for the first time.

As of February 18, apart from those aged 3 to 11, 85.4 percent of Hong Kong residents had received a first COVID-19 vaccine dose. The government has set a target of 90 percent or above.

The HKSAR Government had allowed children aged 3 to 11 to receive the CoronaVac vaccine from Sinovac starting from February 15, and those from 5 to 11 to take the Comirnaty, the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, starting from February 16. Over 75,000 children within the 3-11 year age range had received a first dose as of February 18.

At a press conference on February 22, Lam said the region will carry out three rounds of mass compulsory testing of every resident in March. "The region's testing ability will be increased to no less than 1 million samples per day in order to achieve the scale of the testing. Hundreds of testing centers will be established across the region," she said.

Lam thanked the Central Government for its timely offer to help as Hong Kong faces its worst pandemic wave. That offer shows once again that the Central Government is always a strong backer of the HKSAR, she said.

(Print Edition Title: Timely Assistance)

Copyedited by G. P. Wilson

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