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Hong Kong lacks the healthcare facilities to ‘live with the virus’

  • The city doesn’t have enough hospital beds to follow UK model
  • Numbers will hit 10,000 within days at current rates of growth
  • China’s 2-4-24 strategy to protect citizens has been shown to work
  • Mainland techniques such as universal testing can be implemented here

HONG KONG IS NOW reporting the highest number of Covid-19 infections since the pandemic reached the city in January 2020, with daily numbers of a thousand or more.

Two years on, the city’s record of the management of the pandemic has been a patchy one. If the public health system hasn’t buckled under the pressure yet, then that time is fast approaching. We need help. It’s high time to ask the central government — our strongest and the most resourceful supporter with the best record of dealing with the pandemic — to lend us a hand.


At the rate that cases are rising, we need universal testing to single out all the “invisible” carriers. If Hong Kong resigns itself to “living with the virus”, then the city’s healthcare infrastructure will soon go down.

The central government has the resources to lend us a hand and install universal testing, suitable quarantine facilities, and treatment for Covid-19 patients.

With a new batch of legislators in the Legislative Council, rid of filibustering, we should be able to count on our government to sort things out quickly. But two months into its new term, even Legco appears to be twiddling its thumbs as the city and the electorate are losing to this formidable and yet invisible enemy.


According to some medical experts, the omicron variant can spread by a ratio of 1-to-3 or 1-to-10. If we go by a median figure, then it’s a ratio of 1-to-7. And with the Lunar New Year behind us, which is usually a time for families and friends to come together, there has been a great deal of vertical and horizontal spreading in various neighborhoods.

We currently have hundreds of untraceable cases, and if each of them spreads it to seven other people, then that creates thousands of second-generation infections. Within a few days, this caseload is likely to swell to 10,000 cases of third-generation infections.

It isn’t difficult to extrapolate the rate at which omicron is spreading across Hong Kong. If things continue as they are, our healthcare system will buckle, and following that, our economy and life as we know it will soon follow.


The government’s current Covid-19 policy is knee-jerk, and if compared to other cities in China, we are trailing behind and have possibly become the laughingstock of our compatriots on the mainland.

It’s obvious what we aren’t doing: We need to instate regular universal testing several times a week so that we can track down invisible spreaders and nip infections in the bud.

Considering that Hong Kong is in the throes of a fifth wave, we can be sure that residents won’t be opposed to remodeling the city’s Covid-19 policy on the mainland’s own policy, which has proved successful time and again.

When it comes to fighting a pandemic, there is no such thing as “one country, two systems”; we need a single system of pandemic management just like the Chinese mainland’s.


I must call on all residents to maintain our first line of defense — protecting ourselves. This means staying home, not going out during peak hours, not attending large gatherings, wearing a mask properly, and maintaining the highest possible standards of personal hygiene.

Our second line of defense is getting ourselves vaccinated. If you are already vaccinated, then encourage others to do the same. Enough of us are aware of the science and therefore know that it does not afford 100 percent protection. However, it does minimize the severity of symptoms and has been proved to lower mortality rates.

And for those who may not have warmed to the idea of universal testing, or fear that it is too late: It is never too late to cut the chains of transmission hiding within our city.


We must also call on our lawmakers to do more to implore the government to prevent imported cases, lest they lose the public’s confidence so early on in their terms. This means plugging loopholes that have allowed the virus to slip through the cases.

The airport at Pudong in Shanghai is a maze as each passenger is carefully screened. Image by Ptrump16/ Wikimedia Commons

Hong Kong alone cannot overcome the virus, but neither does it have to act alone.

Shanghai has a “2, 4, 24” policy of testing, containment, and tracing has so far proved to be an effective one.

  • 2: Health officials can cordon off an area with infection cases within two hours;
  • 4: Then track down all close contacts in four hours;
  • 24: And then test them within 24 hours. 


Can we live with the virus? Before answering that, we need to ask ourselves a few questions. Can we continue to live with the current transmission rate, infection rate, the severity of the virus, potential side effects, and the mortality rate as it is?

We can only consider living with the virus if we can deal with all these issues. But the reality is: we can’t at present.

If we ever wish to reopen the Hong Kong-mainland boundary, then Hong Kong needs to review its Covid-19 policy and make some drastic changes such as emulating the mainland’s Covid-19 approach.

Omicron may not be as deadly as the delta variant, but it is far more transmissible than its predecessors. This means we need to enforce our current lines of defense — personal vigilance and vaccinations — and encourage our SAR government to be proactive in fighting Covid-19 and protecting residents.

We need the mainland’s help to bring in universal testing as soon as possible, and we need to start following its example. 

The author , Dr Chow Pak-chin, is a doctor and is president of Wisdom Hong Kong, a think tank. He is known for his campaigns to eradicate blindness among the poor. This column was first printed in China Daily Hong Kong.

Image at the top from Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

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