Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam says the semi-autonomous Chinese city will begin mandatory COVID-19 testing of its 7.5 million people next month.
Lam told reporters Wednesday that Hong Kong will boost its testing capacity to one million tests per day by next month, and that residents will be tested three times during March. She also said the city is aiming to boost its vaccination rate to 90% by next month.
The Asian financial hub is struggling to cope with a surge of new coronavirus cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. Since the start of 2022, Hong Kong has recorded more than 53,000 COVID-19 cases and 145 deaths. The surge has pushed the city’s health care system to the point of collapse, with thousands of patients being treated outside public hospitals in the rain and chilly weather. The city is rushing to build isolation facilities to house thousands of coronavirus patients, including the conversion of public housing estates and indoor sport centers.
An analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Hong Kong predicts the city’s infection rate could soar to 180,000 new cases a day by early next month, with the number of deaths rising to more than 3,200 by mid-May.
Despite the rising numbers of new coronavirus cases, Lam said Hong Kong will continue pursuing a “zero COVID” strategy, similar to that of mainland China, which aims to completely eliminate coronavirus outbreaks.
Lam also said Hong Kong will move the annual school holiday season held from July through August to March and April so school buildings can be converted into testing, isolation and vaccination centers. She also extended a fight ban on at least eight nations classified as high risk, including Britain and the United States, until April 20.
South Korea’s drug regulatory agency announced Wednesday that it has approved the use of Pfizer’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11, the first to be approved for that age group. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said the vaccine was found to be nearly 91% effective in preventing the virus in that age group.
South Korea is also dealing with an omicron-driven surge of new coronavirus cases, with the Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency reporting 171,452 new COVID-19 infections Wednesday, setting a new one-day record.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.