Hong Kong and Omicron: The Great Lock Down is coming!


Hong Kong to Lock Down City for Mass Testing, Local Media Say

  • Stock exchange said to continue operations during lockdown
  • People will still be allowed to go out for food: HKET report

By Annie Lee

1 March 2022, 6:47 am MYT
Updated on1 March 2022, 10:10 am MYT

Hong Kong is planning to enforce a lockdown to ensure a mandatory Covid-19 testing drive planned for this month is effective, Sing Tao Daily and other domestic media reported Tuesday, as the worst virus outbreak in the city so far continues to snowball.   

Testing of the financial hub’s 7.4 million people will start after March 17, Sing Tao said, citing people it didn’t identify. 

Officials are aiming to test the whole city three times over nine days, with a stay-at-home order in place to maximize impact, Sing Tao and other media including the South China Morning Post reported. Hong Kong’s core financial services including the operations of the stock exchange will continue during the testing period, according to the report. Officials were said to be still working out the details.

Residents will still be allowed to leave their homes to buy necessities like food during the lockdown, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported along with the SCMP, both citing unidentified people. Exemptions will be made for some essential workers, but the government is still assessing how widespread the lockdown will be and whether to take moves such as halting public transport, according to the SCMP. 

The Hong Kong government didn’t immediately respond to queries on the reports from Bloomberg News. 

After two years of limited outbreaks, Hong Kong is facing its toughest virus challenge of the pandemic, with the highly transmissible omicron variant testing its zero-tolerance, high intensity approach to keeping Covid out. New cases have ballooned from a few hundred a day to more than 34,000 on Monday. Deaths are also ticking higher, with the under-vaccinated elderly population bearing the brunt as the virus spreads. Officials have already had to relinquish some of their key containment measures, including mandatory isolation for cases and detailed contact tracing, as the outbreak spirals out of control. 

Still, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered Hong Kong last month to quell infections using “all necessary measures.” The country is the last remaining adherent of the so-called Covid Zero strategy, which successfully eliminated the virus in places like Australia, New Zealand and Singapore early on, but is now being abandoned in the face of the more contagious virus strains.

Stay-at-home orders have largely been imposed as a way of stopping the virus’s spread, however, not necessarily to facilitate testing. Experts argue Hong Kong’s political climate — with the city rocked by anti-Beijing protests in 2019 — and dense living environment make a widespread lockdown untenable. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Feb. 15 that the government had no plans “whatsoever” to impose a “complete, wholesale lockdown.”

Nonetheless, concern about that possibility — and that families could be separated if they test positive in the mass testing drive — is fueling an exodus from the territory, with departures hitting a record in the week ending Feb. 27, according to the latest data from the Hong Kong Immigration department. 

— With assistance by Claire Che





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