China's COVID Policy Not Working in Hong Kong As City Sees Over 6K Cases

Hong Kong is struggling to contain a COVID outbreak using China's "zero tolerance" policy as the city reported over 6,000 new cases Thursday and officials said Hong Kong's hospitals are at 90 percent capacity and other quarantine locations are reaching their limits.

Hong Kong's current COVID policy requires anyone who tests positive to be admitted to a hospital or quarantine facility for at least seven days and discharge is dependent on what symptoms a person has and whether they begin testing negative, according to the Associated Press.

Officials said they will likely continue to alter the isolation policies to help lift some of the pressure off of hospitals and other facilities, the AP reported.

"Because of the severe number of cases we need to speed up admission to hospitals and community isolation facilities," Undersecretary for Food and Health Chui Tak-yi told reporters. "The government is trying to ease all these bottlenecks."

A dozen deaths have been reported over the last week, bringing the city's pandemic total over 200 as the Omicron variant has created the most impactful surge of cases Hong Kong has seen yet, according to the CDC.

Officials made the decision to change policies amid reports of patients being treated on hospital beds in outdoor areas because of the capacity issues inside, the AP reported.

"If a large number of patients are waiting outdoors and if this continues, then no matter how hard our medical professionals work around the clock, there's no way to solve this problem relying on our own efforts," said Sara Ho of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, according to the AP.

She said the city's public hospitals are in a "crisis situation" because of the mounting new case numbers.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has also said this week that the government is considering whether to opt for a mass-testing plan across the city in the near future, Reuters reported.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping said publicly this week that controlling the virus needs to be "an overwhelming priority," and has advocated for increased Chinese support and influence in containing the virus, according to The New York Times.

However, critics have said that Hong Kong accepting assistance and following recommendations from China could just be an excuse for the Chinese government to exert more influence over the city, the Times reported.

The Omicron wave is also having a significant impact in Hong Kong because of vaccination rates, as the transmission was so low in the city for much of 2021 that many older residents did not feel the need to get vaccinated, according to the Times. The city's vaccination rates currently sit at 75 percent overall, with just above 91 percent of people aged 20-59 fully vaccinated, while residents over the age of 70 are just 58 percent fully vaccinated, according to government data.

Update 2/17/22, 11:58 a.m. EST: This story has been updated with additional context and information.

Hong Kong China COVID Cases Policy
Patients lie on hospital beds as they wait at a temporary holding area outside Caritas Medical Centre in Hong Kong February 16, 2022. There was visible evidence that Hong Kong hospitals were becoming overwhelmed by the latest COVID surge, with patients on stretchers and in tents being seen to by medical personnel on February 16, 2022, outside the Caritas hospital. Vincent Yu/Associated Press