The city’s isolation facilities are now full and the use of negative pressure wards that prevent contamination is now at “saturation point,” Lee said.
Compounding the city’s troubles, the government warned that supplies of vegetables and chilled poultry will be affected “to a certain extent” after a border transport interchange was suspended because some vehicle drivers tested positive.
Hong Kong imports 90 per cent of its food, with the mainland its most important source, especially for fresh food. Consumers have felt shortages of some imported goods, including premium seafood, due to stringent flight restrictions.
China’s central government will give full support to Hong Kong, Chief Secretary John Lee said after a meeting with mainland officials in Shenzhen over the weekend.
“I believe with their help we will be in better position to contain the outbreak,” said Lee, who will be co-ordinating these efforts.
Beijing will take active measures to ensure there is a stable supply of daily necessities including fresh produce, Lee said.
Hong Kong was just recovering from last week’s sudden shortage of vegetables after mainland China temporarily shut border-crossing operations following a handful of positive tests among truck drivers. The swift clampdown – typical of the rigid measures Beijing imposes to quash potential outbreaks – saw the city’s supermarket shelves stripped bare and prices surge as fresh-produce supply dropped as much as 70 per cent.
Lee, Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, has reaffirmed a commitment to the city’s COVID zero policy, an approach that’s failed almost everywhere else. While countries from the US to Germany and Australia are unwinding curbs, Hong Kong has imposed its toughest measures since the start of the pandemic about two years ago.
Lee said on Saturday there were no plans to lock down the city, where schools, gyms, cinemas and most other venues are closed. Social gatherings are limited to two people, with violators facing a fine of at least $HK5000 ($900); restaurants close at 6pm; and it is rare to see anyone without a mask.
Most office employees have reverted to working from home.
Flight bans have been extended until March 4. The number of visitors to the city last year was “close to zero,” according to the city’s tourism board, compared with more than 65 million in 2018.
Besides battering its economy and threatening its status as an international financial hub, the futile policy has led to frustration among residents, expatriates and business leaders.
“I believe most government officials know it’s impossible to maintain COVID zero, but they can’t help because they have to follow China’s policy,” said Danny Lau, honorary chairman of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association. “Hong Kong is becoming more and more like a ghost city.”