China construction firm to build Covid-19 facilities in virus-hit Hong Kong

Patients at a makeshift treatment area outside a hospital in Hong Kong on Feb 16, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong has contracted mainland firm China State Construction International Holdings Ltd to build eight isolation and treatment facilities to help the global financial hub fight a worsening Covid-19 outbreak, the government said.

The temporary facilities, with a combined capacity of 50,000 beds, will be spread across Hong Kong, including on private land lent for free by developers.

The move follows promises of "staunch support" from mainland Chinese authorities, with city leader Carrie Lam doubling down on the official goal of bringing infections down to zero.

Authorities are expected to report a new record of about 10,000 confirmed infections over the past 24 hours, up from Thursday's 8,798, broadcaster TVB reported, citing an unidentified source.

University of Hong Kong researchers predict new infections could peak at 180,000 a day next month.

"The target is to maximise the site utilisation and complete the relevant works as soon as possible, equipping Hong Kong for the fight against the epidemic," the government said in a statement late on Thursday.

Sun Hung Kai Properties, New World Development and Henderson Land Development are among the developers that contributed to the scheme.

Reuters reported in September that Beijing had given a new mandate to the Chinese-ruled city's powerful property tycoons, telling them to pour resources and influence into backing Beijing's interests.

Hong Kong is following mainland China's "dynamic zero-Covid" strategy, aiming to eradicate all outbreaks at all costs, but the spread of infections with the highly-transmissible Omicron variant this year has overwhelmed the city's health system.

This week, Mrs Lam used emergency powers granted under British colonial-era laws to exempt mainland Chinese staff and projects from any licensing or other legal requirements.

As Covid rages across Hong Kong at the start of a sensitive political year for Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing is deeply invested in the city's response to the crisis.

In the past week, since Mr Xi told the city its "overriding mission" was to control the worsening crisis, Hong Kong has stepped up anti-Covid measures, including plans for mass testing buttressed by equipment, testing vehicles and personnel from the mainland.

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