Omicron wave prompts Hong Kong to keep hospitalisation only for vulnerable groups

HONG KONG (NYTIMES) – The Hong Kong government said on Sunday (Feb 13) that it would begin prioritising hospital isolation space for children, older people and other serious cases as a wave of coronavirus infections has swamped health care resources in the city.

Hong Kong had previously required that all Covid-19 patients receive hospital treatment. The city has now begun telling those with mild cases to remain at home, Dr Larry Lee, the head of integrated clinical services for the public Hospital Authority, said on Sunday.

Dr Lee said he did not know how many infected people might be stuck at home, but he estimated there were “thousands”.

He said: “This is not an ideal decision, but at this critical moment we need to preserve our limited resources for patients who are most in need.”

Hong Kong has pursued an aggressive approach to stamping out the spread of the coronavirus, and for long stretches last year it saw only single-digit daily increases in new cases. But the spread of the Omicron variant has overwhelmed these defences.

Daily case numbers are now doubling every few days. On Sunday, health officials announced 1,347 confirmed new cases, and more than 2,000 preliminarily positive cases.

The city recorded eight Covid-19 deaths last week, the first since September.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong have estimated that this wave could kill more than 950 people by mid-June under the current level of social distancing restrictions. Over the past two years, Hong Kong has tallied just 221 Covid-19 deaths.

Last week, Hong Kong implemented its toughest social distancing measures to date, temporarily closing salons and houses of worship, and adding malls and grocery stores to a long list of public places that will require vaccination to enter.

On Saturday, Hong Kong officials met with a representative of China’s central government in the mainland city of Shenzhen. Hong Kong Chief Secretary John Lee said after the meeting that there were no immediate plans to put Hong Kong under a lockdown that some mainland cities have enforced this year to stop Omicron outbreaks.

Mr Lee said the meeting covered the need to send mainland personnel to help increase testing capacity, but the details have yet to be determined. In recent days, some people have waited for hours in long lines to undergo mandatory testing orders.

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