HK says 20,000 hotel rooms earmarked for quarantine as Covid-19 cases surge

Hospital beds are more than 90 per cent full, with some patients left lying on beds outside in chilly, sometimes rainy weather. PHOTO: REUTERS
A mobile testing vehicle from mainland China arrives at the Shenzhen Bay Control Point to help with the coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong, on Feb 17, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG/REUTERS) - Hong Kong has identified more than 20,000 hotel rooms for quarantine accommodation, leader Carrie Lam said on Friday (Feb 18), as property developers piled in to support the global financial hub’s battle to curb a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Lam said 21 hotels had expressed interest in turning their facilities into isolation venues, exceeding “by a large margin the government’s original target of 7,000 to 10,000 rooms”.

Quarantine facilities in Hong Kong have reached capacity and hospital beds are more than 90 per cent full as cases spiral, with some patients, including elderly, left lying on beds outside in chilly, sometimes rainy weather.

Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) said late on Thursday it could provide 1,000 rooms in two hotels for isolation facilities and would broadcast a government promotional video on vaccine passports in its major malls.

New World Development said it planned to provide around 700 rooms, while Henderson Land Development said its founding Lee family would donate HK$10 million (S$1.7 million) to send anti-epidemic materials to elderly homes, among others.

The moves come as the Hong Kong authorities report new cases have multiplied 60 times so far this month, and after Chinese President Xi Jinping said the city’s “overriding mission” was to stabilise and control the outbreak.

“President Xi Jinping’s important instructions to support Hong Kong’s fight against the epidemic, and mobilisation of relevant central departments to help Hong Kong, have given a confidence boost to all Hong Kong people,” SHKP Chairman Raymond Kwok said in a statement late on Thursday.

Hong Kong is meanwhile working out details of a plan to test its population for Covid-19.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said details of the testing blitz are still being worked on, according to a government transcript of a media conference released late on Thursday.

Chinese medical experts will likely be brought in to assist in the plan to test all of the financial hub's 7.5 million residents, people familiar with the government's thinking told Bloomberg News on Thursday.

Officials are still deciding whether to make the mass testing compulsory, they said, with vans currently used for vaccinations to be converted to mete out tests, one of the people said. The effort will probably start next month, local media have reported.

Hong Kong recorded 6,116 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday, along with 6,300 preliminary cases. The latter figure reflects specimens that are awaiting a second, confirmatory test. There are more than 10 patients in a critical condition.

Officials announced measures to free up space at hospitals and isolation facilities, with segregating positive cases from the community a key way of containing the virus under the "zero-Covid-19" strategy Hong Kong and China are still pursuing.

Chinese President Xi called this week for Hong Kong to take "all necessary measures" to contain the widening outbreak, which came after months of being virus-free. While other parts of the world start to live alongside Covid-19, Beijing is continuing to pursue elimination, with mass testing a key tool in an arsenal that also includes effectively closed borders and lengthy mandatory quarantines for travellers.

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