Hong Kong's tough anti-Covid-19 rules push Singaporeans living there to look for an exit

Hong Kong officials further tightened restrictions on Feb 24, banning people from taking off their masks in public places. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - The Covid-19 pandemic and the way city officials have handled the situation have taken a toll on some Singaporeans, including a permanent resident who wanted to be known as Sally, whose family is in Hong Kong and mainland China.

The 32-year-old has quit her job and is looking to move back to Singapore, where she had lived for more than two decades before she came to Hong Kong.

"I get burned out all the time in Hong Kong because of the pandemic and the measures," Sally said, adding that it is hard to have a social life in the city. "I cannot see my friends, cannot see my parents too."

Officials further tightened restrictions on Thursday (Feb 24), banning people from taking off their masks in public places, even for activities such as hiking or jogging, as the Omicron-led outbreak in the city hit new highs.

Public gatherings are now capped at two people, private gatherings are limited to members of two households, and dining in eateries is banned from 6pm. Businesses such as gyms and bars remain closed.

The vaccine pass, which started on Feb 24, bans unvaccinated individuals from entering many premises, including supermarkets, shopping malls and restaurants.

In addition, Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Feb 22 announced plans to test the entire population of 7.4 million for Covid-19 three times from mid-March, with resources and manpower coming from the mainland.

The mainland team is helping to beef up the city's testing and isolation facilities and capabilities.

The developments in recent months have pushed many to seriously consider leaving Hong Kong for a few months until restrictions are lifted.

Said 32-year-old Singaporean Sue Ong: "For now, I'm thinking of going back to Singapore in April to escape the continued 'lockdown' in Hong Kong. But I'm also exploring the possibility of relocating for good some time next year."

In some parents' chat groups on social media, members who are most worried are those with babies and young children.

Some in the chats pointed out that there are not enough hospital beds to accommodate both the parent and the infected child, so some infected children are left alone in hospital for treatment.

But the Hospital Authority has since allowed some children who tested positive to remain at home instead of the hospital, where they would be separated from their parents.

The exponential surge in daily infections has stretched the limits of the city's understaffed and overworked public hospitals, as well as isolation facilities, particularly the Penny's Bay quarantine centre.

But officials remain firm on isolating every single case, as well as primary and secondary contacts.

The authorities now allow eligible residents with mild symptoms to isolate at home or in an isolation facility instead of just the hospital.

On Saturday, Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan addressed the government's change in policy on Friday that those who test positive using rapid test kits no longer need to submit a deep-throat saliva sample for confirmation.

"This will remove long queues and will also be speedier," she said.

The government on Friday said it has ramped up testing capacity to an average of 200,000 tests a day, but it is still unable to cope with the surge in demand.

The fifth Covid-19 wave, which began on Dec 31, has led to more than 81,400 cases, making up more than 86 per cent of the city's cumulative total since the start of the pandemic, said Professor Chan.

"The scale of the current wave of outbreak is unprecedented and the peak has yet to arrive," she warned.

Prof Chan noted that the situation is more challenging because Hong Kong has not only the Omicron variant that is extremely transmissible, but also the Delta strain.

The city added more than 17,000 positive and preliminary positive cases on Saturday, bringing the total to more than 111,000 infections and more than 500 deaths.

In a paper titled Modelling The Fifth Wave Of Covid-19 In Hong Kong, University of Hong Kong researchers said their study projected daily fatalities to hit about 100 by late March, and cumulative deaths possibly rising to more than 3,200 by mid-May.

They estimated that new infections could peak at a whopping 180,000 a day in March, prompting epidemiologist and government adviser Gabriel Leung to urge officials to roll out mass testing only after the Omicron outbreak peaks and when Hong Kong has enough isolation facilities.

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