HONG KONG - The city’s Covid-19 death rate per million people has hit the highest in the world, with victims mostly being the elderly, many of whom were unvaccinated.
Figures from the scientific online publication Our World In Data, produced in collaboration with Oxford University researchers, showed that Hong Kong recorded 25.5 new deaths per million people over a seven-day moving average as at Sunday (March 6).
The figure is more than twice that of Latvia’s 9.26, six times that of 4.29 in the United States, and far more than Singapore’s 1.86. Australia's was1.41, Japan's, 1.68, and South Korea's, 2.89.
In terms of case fatality rate, which is the number of deaths against total cases, Hong Kong recorded 0.4 per cent, below the US’ 1.21 per cent, Britain's 0.85 per cent and Japan's 0.46 per cent. But it was higher than South Korea’s 0.2 per cent, Australia’s 0.16 per cent and Singapore’s 0.13 per cent.
Hong Kong government data as at Tuesday (March 8) showed that over 2,300 people had died since the end of December when the latest Covid-19 surge occurred. Most of the victims or almost 70 per cent were the elderly, aged 80 and above.
Slightly less than half of everyone under 80 in the territory are still unvaccinated, despite repeated government reminders and outreach inoculation programmes.
Health experts have warned of a rising death toll, particularly among the elderly, with the majority of the city’s elderly care homes reporting cases.
On Tuesday, more than 42,000 new cases were recorded in Hong Kong, bringing the total since the pandemic to over 539,000 cases with more than 2,400 deaths.
Health officials on Tuesday said the focus was now on care homes for both seniors and the disabled.
About 690 or 87 per cent of all elderly care homes have reported cases, said Dr Albert Au from the Centre for Health Protection. More than 16,600 residents and staff had been infected, and more than 1,200 deaths reported in elderly care homes.
He said about 230 or 69 per cent of the city’s care homes for the disabled were also affected, involving more than 6,000 residents and staff.
Besides tightening measures, Chief Executive Carrie Lam also plans to mass test the city’s 7.4 million population, which local media now say will be delayed to next month.
Previously, reports said the testing will take place between March 26 and April 3. The government has not provided further details but Mrs Lam has said each resident would have to be tested three times in three weeks.
A general practitioner, Dr David Owens, believes the mass testing exercise is misguided, telling The Straits Times that if the goal was to minimise deaths in the vulnerable, “we would abandon the compulsory universal testing”.
“It will have no benefit in this regard and will likely do harm by misdirecting energy and resources from better options,” he said, pointing out that the key was vaccination of the elderly in care homes and preventing the city’s hospital systems from breaking down.
On Tuesday, local daily Ming Pao, citing a source, reported a possible shift in the government’s stance, from the focus on mass testing and isolation to lowering deaths.
The report said the likely shift followed suggestions by Mr Liang Wannian, the leader of China’s National Health Commission’s Covid-19 response team who is in Hong Kong to advise the city.
He proposed that the city focus on reducing the number of severe cases and the death toll as well as stamping out infections.
Officials are struggling to contain the city’s worst wave of infections under a zero-Covid-19 policy, in which harsh measures have been introduced, including flight bans, prohibiting no more than two households in private gatherings, limiting public gatherings to two people and not allowing dining at eateries from 6pm.
The latest surge in cases have led to overflowing morgues, a healthcare system pushed to the brink and isolation facilities full which, in turn, forced the government to reverse the original strictly no home quarantine policy.