Hong Kong Sets Global COVID Infection Record as Morgues Overflow

Earlier this month, there were almost 900 confirmed COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents of Hong Kong when case numbers peaked in the city, according to an analysis of government data by the Hong Kong Free Press.

The number of cases breaks the record of daily infections compared to residents that was previously held by New York City, which saw 500 cases per 100,000 residents this past January, The Guardian reported.

The stealth Omicron variant-driven surge has put the city's health care system under extreme pressure, threatening to overwhelm morgues, which have had to temporarily store bodies in refrigerated containers, as well as cut down the supply of coffins, according to the Associated Press.

Hong Kong's severe Omicron surge has caused the total number of infections to surpass 1 million, while the number of reported COVID-19 deaths in the semi-autonomous city is higher than the total deaths in all of mainland China. The strict "zero COVID" policy helped Hong Kong quash earlier outbreaks, however the highly-transmissible Omicron variant has changed the circumstances, the AP reported.

In response to the soaring infection rates, Hong Kong, which currently has a population of 7.6 million, requested aid from mainland China, which has sent experts and medical resources.

Hong Kong COVID Record
The stealth Omicron variant-driven surge has put the city's health care system under extreme pressure. Above, two men carry an empty coffin past a row of hearses outside a funeral parlor in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong on March 17. Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images

The total infection number for Hong Kong since the start of the pandemic rose to 1,016,944 Friday as city health officials reported 20,079 new cases. Of the total cases, nearly 97 percent occurred during the current virus wave that began in December, the AP reported. The vast majority of the city's deaths throughout the pandemic have also occurred amid the ongoing wave.

In total, 5,401 COVID-related deaths have been confirmed in the city, and nearly 5,200 of those deaths have been documented since February 9, according to the AP.

In mainland China, there have been 4,636 recorded deaths from the virus and 126,234 confirmed cases, even though the country does not factor asymptomatic cases of the virus into its total.

The severity of the current surge can be attributed to low vaccination rates among the elderly, low infection rates in the city in the past and the city's overwhelmed health infrastructure, virologist Siddharth Sridhar told The Guardian. Less than 37 percent of those aged 80 and older have received two doses of a vaccine.

The surge in the city and additional outbreaks in mainland China are already taking a toll on the rest of the world. As one of the world's biggest manufacturers, the strict lockdowns have strained an already troubled supply chain, and the economic fallout could worsen further, the New York Times reported.

The production of products like Toyota and Volkswagen cars, Apple iPhones, circuit boards and computer cables has already been disrupted as some of China's industrial cities try to fight the virus with its strict containment measures.

The transportation of products and components has also been strained in certain parts of the country. Some cities near Shanghai have closed down highway exits or imposed a requirement that drivers produce a negative COVID test, which has resulted in miles-long wait lines for trucks, the Times reported.

Newsweek reached out to China's Health Commission for comment.

Update 03/18/22, 10:15 a.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information and background.