Hong Kong reports first Covid-19-linked death in five months

People queueing for Covid-19 tests in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Feb 8, 2022. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - An elderly man who returned a positive test for Covid-19 in Hong Kong died on Tuesday (Feb 8), the authorities said, the city's first death potentially linked with the virus in five months.

Hong Kong is due to report at least 1,160 daily Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, a new record for the global financial hub that has been struggling to contain an outbreak of the Omicron variant, broadcaster TVB reported, citing an unidentified source.

Hong Kong has recorded more than 2,600 cases over the past two weeks compared with just two in December.  

In total, the city has reported about 16,600 infections since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in 2020 and 213 deaths, far lower tallies than in other similar cities.

The 73-year-old patient was chronically ill and had tested preliminary positive for Covid-19 during hospital admission screening, according to a statement from the Hospital Authority late on Tuesday.

It was unclear whether his death would be classified as Hong Kong's 214th Covid-19 death as preliminary positive cases have to undergo further tests to be classified as positive.

The Asian financial hub has reported around 16,600 infections since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, far lower than in other similar major cities.

A top adviser to Hong Kong's leader said he is very optimistic that the city will reopen to the world within the next year, as the financial hub races to get its population vaccinated.

"We all want to end this thing as soon as we can," Mr Bernard Chan, a financier and convener of Chief Executive Carrie Lam's advisory Executive Council, said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Wednesday. 

When asked if the city could reopen to the world within the next year, Mr Chan said that once Hong Kong had a "fully vaccinated community" and a better knowledge of Omicron, he was very optimistic the city could meet that target.

Mr Chan, however, ruled out Hong Kong orchestrating a citywide, China-style lockdown to stem the current outbreak of Omicron. 

"I don't think we can ever go into a full lockdown," he said. "We just can't do it in Hong Kong. We cannot have the same sort of lockdown that you see in the mainland." 

Meanwhile, Hong Kong ordered the 20,000-strong upscale community of Discovery Bay to be tested for Covid-19 as the city steps up efforts to battle a widening outbreak.

Anyone who was on Lantau Island’s Discovery Bay on for more than two hours from Jan 26 to Feb 8 is required to be tested after sewage samples were found to be positive for the virus, according to a government compulsory testing notice.

Discovery Bay – a residential development that is 30 minutes away from downtown Hong Kong by ferry – is unique in Hong Kong in that it is entirely operated by one company.

The neighborhood – home to bankers, lawyers and airline pilots – is famous for its use of pricey golf carts, which in the past have sold for more than HK$2 million (S$344,875). According to a 2016 census, more than half its residents were non-Chinese.

On Tuesday, the Chinese territory announced stringent new coronavirus restrictions and record new infections, while a citywide shortage of vegetables added to the misery as truck drivers who tested positive were unable to bring them from mainland China.

Hong Kong has stuck to a zero-Covid-19 strategy employed by mainland China to suppress all coronavirus outbreaks as soon as possible.

The measures, which are the toughest imposed since the start of the pandemic, are taking an increasing social and economic toll on the city's 7.5 million residents.

Mrs Lam said Hong Kong is not currently able to live with the virus like the rest of the world owing to the more than 50 per cent of elderly who remain unvaccinated.

The authorities are implementing a vaccine pass due to take effect on Feb 24 that will require vaccinations to enter most venues, including shopping malls and supermarkets.

Around 80 per cent of the city's residents have had at least one vaccine but many elderly folk have been hesitant to get jabbed.

At the same time, the authorities have banned gatherings of more than two people, shut schools, playgrounds, gyms and most other venues. Dining in restaurants is banned from 6pm, while private gatherings at home have also been restricted.

Flights are down around 90 per cent due to tough travel restrictions, while most people, including the majority of civil servants, are working from home.

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