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Hong Kong Crisis, COVID-19 Epidemic Outbreak

by Amélie Poulain

Since late January in Hong Kong, the “Omicron” virus has entered the community. During the Lunar New Year, the mass movement and reunion of the population have accelerated the spread of the virus. Insufficient vaccine coverage for the elderly, too dense living space, and collapse in medical capacity had made the epidemic out of control.

When the epidemic in Hong Kong will subside and the people will be able to return to normal life is still unknown. (Photo via pexels.com)

Taipei, TAIWAN (Merxwire) – Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the epidemic situation in Hong Kong has been kept under good control. The worst peak time in the past records was in July and December 2020, when the number of daily confirmed cases was about 100. On January 23 this year, Hong Kong saw a huge increase of 125 local cases in one day. By January 28, the average number of confirmed cases in seven days began to exceed 100, entering a period of community infection, and the number of confirmed cases began to rise.

After the beginning of the Lunar New Year, due to the movement of the population to reunite for the festival, the “Omicron” virus, which spreads very quickly, has the opportunity to invade Hong Kong on a large scale. In the past two weeks, the epidemic has risen rapidly in Hong Kong. On February 9, the number of daily confirmed cases exceeded 1,000 for the first time, and on February 24, it exceeded 10,000. Even more astonishingly, since February 26, the daily number of confirmed cases has exceeded 30,000. The current record for the epidemic was reached on March 3 with 56,827 confirmed cases in a single day. The total number of confirmed cases exceeded 470,000.

Hong Kong has recorded a cumulative death toll of 214 since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, with an additional 1,793 deaths after the fifth wave of the outbreak. According to statistics from the “WorldoMeters” website, in the past seven days, the number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong exceeded 300,000, and the death toll was 1,348, with an average of 182 deaths per million people. The COVID-19 death rate has jumped to the highest in the world.

After the outbreak of the epidemic, Hong Kong’s medical care volume has plunged into an unprecedented crisis, and many people are queuing up for screening in wet and cold weather to confirm whether they have been diagnosed. Lucky people have the chance to be hospitalized about 3 days after diagnosis. Because of the shortage of hospital beds, many confirmed patients are placed on stretchers outside the hospital, and the medical environment is quite terrible. There are many private hospitals outright refusing to admit patients with COVID-19, leaving tens of thousands of infected people without treatment. On average, a healthcare worker takes care of 60 to 100 patients, and they are under tremendous physical and mental stress. The death toll has risen sharply, hospitals are running out of space to store dead bodies, and public hospitals are in a tragic situation where bodies are stored in corridors and parking lots.

In the face of the panic of the rising epidemic, which has also led to a rush to buy materials for people’s livelihood, chain drugstores and supermarkets such as ParknShop and Watsons have begun to take measures to limit purchases, including rice, noodles, eggs, canned food, medicines and disinfection supplies. . Toilet paper in e-commerce platforms is also out of stock. Although all major channels have urgently increased the volume of goods, due to a large number of infected people, logistics and front-line service manpower are in a tight state. They can only appeal to the public to shop rationally and not to hoard materials excessively.

The increase in the number of infected people and the requirement of negative quarantine certificates have resulted in an obvious shortage of grassroots employees. More than one-fifth of the fruit and vegetable delivery drivers are unable to work. The price of vegetables and fruits has soared by 1 to 3 times, reducing consumers’ willingness to buy. Affected by the epidemic, the business has declined, consumption has declined, and it has become more difficult for stalls to operate. The MTR and supermarkets also suffered from a lack of staff and shortened operating hours, and the economy was in a downturn.

In the actual measurement of the online store of Parknshop Hong Kong, except for the need to wait in line to enter the station, the delivery orders for the next two weeks are all full. (Measured screenshot via Merxwire)

Why is the mild “Omicron” mutant virus causing a sudden change in the Hong Kong epidemic, and it seems that it cannot be effectively controlled in a short period? The initial cause was an out-migrant case from Pakistan who entered a large public housing and caused community infection. Following the Lunar New Year holiday, people returned to their hometowns to celebrate the New Year, reunion gatherings, and travel abroad caused the virus to spread in large numbers. Insufficient vaccine coverage of the elderly is also one of the important keys to detonating the epidemic. Statistics show that the elderly are less willing to vaccinate because they are worried about vaccine side effects. Less than 60% of people over the age of 70 receive the first dose of the vaccine, and less than 50% of those over the age of 80. Coupled with the old history of chronic diseases, it is more likely to cause various complications after diagnosis, leading to severe and severe death problems. As a result, more than 80% of the nursing homes in Hong Kong are clustered with infection, and more than 3,150 residents and 900 employees have been diagnosed.

Hong Kong is narrow and densely populated, and the residence is dense, and the inability to do good home isolation is also one of the important reasons for the outbreak of the epidemic. This also highlights the serious inequality of wealth in Hong Kong. In terms of regions and cities, Hong Kong ranks second only to New York in terms of the number of billionaires. Such a wealthy city has more than 200,000 residents living in unventilated apartments and the average living area of individuals is less than 2 pings. They share facilities and passages with other families and cannot properly maintain distance. The family members who are diagnosed can only be forced to sleep on the stairs and top floor. Some domestic helpers who are diagnosed are even homeless on the streets, and let the epidemic spread rapidly.

The stability of the epidemic has put the government and people in a comfortable state. Apart from the idea of “it’s okay not to get vaccinated” among the elderly, the government has not offered any incentives, and the relevant materials and hardware are insufficiently prepared. There is a lack of rapid screening reagents and no large-scale Insufficient testing plans, isolation facilities, and emergency beds. Complicated diagnosis procedures and long waiting times have made it impossible for those who may be infected and those diagnosed with the virus to be isolated and treated immediately, and the government has no way to control them.

The area of Hong Kong is small but the large population is one of the main reasons for this COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo via pexels.com)

To effectively prevent the spread of the virus and control the epidemic, the Hong Kong authorities are currently aiming to increase the vaccination rate of the elderly as their primary goal. Schools below secondary schools in Hong Kong will have their summer vacations in advance from March to mid-April. Other measures include mandatory wearing of masks outdoors, no dining in restaurants after 6 p.m., bans on gatherings of more than two people, and some places such as restaurants require proof of vaccination to enter. At the same time, it is also strengthening the improvement of the equipment of mobile cabin hospital in Tsing Yi hoping to increase the occupancy rate, so that the infected patients do not wander in the community, and refit the refrigerated containers to store the corpse, hoping to improve the treatment environment of the medical institution and let the epidemic gradually subside.

How long will the epidemic in Hong Kong continue? HKUMed WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control specially invited data analysis experts to estimate the trend of the epidemic. It is expected that this wave of epidemics in Hong Kong may reach its peak in early April, with a maximum of 183,000 confirmed cases per day. There will be hundreds of deaths per day at the same time. The overall epidemic is not expected to stabilize until mid-May.

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