Hong Kong’s Covid-19 pandemic management disappointing, says Carrie Lam

The government had earlier warned that it would implement such lockdowns as needed in order to battle the fourth wave of Covid-19 cases. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's leader has described the city's anti-pandemic efforts as disappointing, falling behind its neighbours even as officials aggressively expand compulsory testing for the coronavirus.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday (Jan 27) that compared to the mainland, Macau and Taiwan, Hong Kong's pandemic controls have been "far from satisfactory".

"But from an international perspective, it hasn't done too badly," she wrote in her review of the city's battle with Covid-19 in the past year.

Hong Kong's number of confirmed cases is lower than that in 130 jurisdictions, with the rate of infection in the population among the lowest, she said.

Based on an analysis of the different districts, Yau Tsim Mong alone accounts for a third of the city's total cases, Mrs Lam noted.

Besides the emergence of separate clusters, Yau Tsim Mong is densely populated, with many old buildings and sub-divided flats, and this is believed to have helped fuel the spread of the virus, she said, adding that testing has been ramped up significantly.

In less than three months since Nov 15, 3.1 million people have been tested. This figure roughly equals 85 per cent of the numbers tested in the 10 months before that.

And while this is still an unsatisfactory rate of testing, the government has not imposed a city-wide lockdown or curfew and the healthcare system has not crashed, Mrs Lam noted.

"There is no 'the best', only better when it comes to anti-epidemic efforts," she said, promising to improve and learn from past experiences to bring the situation under control.

In a separate Facebook post, Mrs Lam said she was "very happy" that the 11-hour operation to test people in a Kowloon neighbourhood ran successfully with the help of 380 government staff.

She said officials adopted "parallel testing", using both rapid antigen tests and nucleic acid ones to speed up the identification of those infected.

"The next goal of the government is to see how it can use anti-epidemic tools to beat community transmission and achieve zero cases," Mrs Lam wrote.

Her remarks follow the lifting of a second neighbourhood lockdown in the densely-populated Yau Ma Tei imposed on Tuesday night.

The authorities early on Wednesday morning said some 330 people in an area in Yau Ma Tei were tested and one confirmed case was detected after the overnight operation where staff visited 306 households.

The first lockdown took place last Saturday in Jordan where 7,000 people from 150 buildings were tested in a two-day operation, with 13 cases found.

More than 200 Jordan residents did not comply with orders to go for tests and could face fines of up to HK$25,000 (S$4,200) and a jail term of six months.

Some of the city's health experts have said the Jordan operation - a huge logistical undertaking that involved door-to-door roundups of residents for testing, deployment of over 3,000 civil servants and 6,500 food packs - was not cost-effective. They said that existing measures including issuing mandatory testing notices, such as those in the Yau Tsim Mong and Sham Shui Po districts, have been effective.

Hong Kong recorded 60 confirmed cases on Wednesday, of which 57 were local and 21 untraceable. The number of total confirmed cases is now at 10,282 and over 170 deaths.

Health officials on Wednesday said at the daily briefing that new clusters have emerged in North Point and at a congee shop in Hung Hom where there are at least seven cases including the chef and staff.

The cluster in North Point is linked to Tung Fat Building where at least eight units and more than a dozen residents are affected, prompting the city's microbiologist and government adviser, Professor Yuen Kwok Yung, to urge a partial evacuation of Block C of the development.

More buildings would also be issued compulsory testing notices including three buildings in the Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok specified area, as well other buildings in Tuen Mun and Ho Man Tin.

The government on Tuesday added more specified areas where mandatory testing orders would apply.

Besides expanding the original specified area in Jordan and retaining the one in Sham Shui Po, it also designated a specified area in Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok, as well as one in Hung Hom.

Current measures such as capping public gatherings at two, and shutting gyms and bars, have been extended for another week to Feb 3.

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