Hong Kong could see 3,000 Covid-19 deaths by May, experts say

People queue in the rain at a makeshift Covid-19 testing centre in Hong Kong on Feb 20, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - The worsening Covid-19 outbreak in Hong Kong is likely to claim more than 3,000 lives by the middle of May, according to a forecast by a team of medical professors and health data experts.

Daily infections are likely to peak at nearly 183,000 in early March, before gradually dropping to around 400 by mid-May, according to an updated forecast from the Laboratory of Data Discovery for Health and the University of Hong Kong's WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control.

Deaths would peak at almost 100 a day in late-March, with cumulative casualties hitting 3,206 in mid-May, according to the analysis released Monday (Feb 21).

The latest prediction paints an increasingly bleak picture of Covid-19 in Hong Kong, where the outbreak is already bigger than the original in Wuhan, China, when the pandemic began.

Researchers updated their Feb 10 outlook, which found daily infections would peak at around 28,000 in mid-March and deaths would reach a total of 954 by end of June, after determining that the government's latest virus control measures are less effective than they originally expected.

Without more intensive measures, similar to a city-wide lockdown, "the trajectory of the fifth wave is unlikely to change substantially from its current course", the researchers wrote in the report that was released to the public.

Hong Kong has maintained some of the world's toughest measures in its pursuit of a China-style Covid Zero strategy, including restricting public gatherings to a maximum of two people and private gatherings to no more than two families.

It has also banned flights from nine countries including the US, UK and Australia.

With the highly infectious Omicron variant challenging the city's defences, and daily infections soaring to a record 7,533 on Monday, doubts are rising about whether the government can halt the outbreak without the strict lockdowns that allowed various cities in China to stop transmission of the pathogen.

The outbreak and the increasingly strict curbs have kept more people at home in recent days, with activity levels in the city falling by half over the past week, according to data from tracking platform Apple Mobility.

Yet medical experts have said social mixing needs to be cut 70 per cent in order to contain the spread of Omicron.

The elderly in Hong Kong are among the most vulnerable, due to weak immune systems and low vaccination rates. About 57 per cent of those aged 80 and above, or more than 227,000 people, haven't received even their first dose of vaccine, according to the city's statistics.

The majority of those who have died thus far in the latest outbreak were elderly.

The social implications of the outbreak are likely to be widespread, the researchers said.

They projected 625,000 people will be infected and in isolation at the peak of the outbreak, with nearly 1.9 million close contacts in quarantine.

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