The city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has apologised after citizens waited for hours to receive Covid-19 tests or enter quarantine facilities on Wednesday, shortly before tightened social distancing measures were implemented.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong reported 1,161 new cases and two deaths, while infections have been found in more than 10 elderly care homes. The city is facing its fifth wave of the coronavirus, led by the more transmissible but less severe Omicron variant.

tai wai covid-19 testing line with stools
Residents, some with stools, wait in line for a Covid-19 test in Tai Wai. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

In a message posted to her personal Facebook page on Wednesday night, Lam said the city’s Covid-19 situation was “what we are most concerned about and most unwilling to see throughout the two years of fighting the pandemic.”

“Regarding the fact that many citizens had to queue for hours to receive nucleic acid tests, and a lot of those tested positive had to wait for a long time to enter quarantine facilities, we are deeply sorry and disturbed,” Lam wrote.

The city’s leader said the government, the Hospital Authority, testing service providers, and all pandemic personnel were “continuously looking for different solutions and additional support to increase their capabilities,” while urging people to stay home, avoid gathering and get vaccinated.

carrie lam press conference feb 8
Chief Executive Carrie Lam addresses media on February 8, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

After a reporter from HK01 who recently attended Lam’s press conference and daily government Covid-19 briefings tested preliminary positive on Thursday, Lam – who has shunned face masks during press meetings in recent months – will be taking regular nucleic acid tests, according to the Office of the Chief Executive.

Expert suggests home quarantine

If quarantine centres, including those at AsiaWorld-Expo and Penny’s Bay, reach full capacity, leading microbiologist and pandemic advisor Yuen Kwok-yung said it would be “a practical idea” for patients with mild symptoms to isolate at home.

Speaking on Commercial Radio on Thursday morning, Yuen said spaces at centres such as AsiaWorld-Expo should be reserved for unvaccinated elderly people or others who are at high risk, as “it is very difficult to avoid cross-infections in households.”

Penny's Bay Covid-19 quarantine centre on Lantau
Penny’s Bay Covid-19 quarantine centre on Lantau. File photo: GovHK.

Yuen said the resources and manpower currently available “have no way to tackle the pandemic at the moment.”

“I believe the first thing for everybody is to accept the situation, and then think clearly how to execute and what is the most appropriate method, so that citizens will not feel defeated, annoyed or that the government is being indecisive.”

Yuen said it would take seven to 14 days to assess whether the new social distancing measures were effective.

At this stage, Yuen said the two most important issues were to “safeguard our elderly” and “protect our medical system from being paralysed.”

‘Fever clinics’

Yuen said that medical personnel should be sent to elderly nursing homes as soon as possible to provide Covid-19 vaccinations, while people with mild symptoms should be directed to “fever clinics” to relieve the pressure on Accident and Emergency rooms.

yuen kwok yung speaks reporters
Top microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung speaks to reporters on January 12, 2021. Screenshot via RTHK

Yuen suggested that authorities could take reference from their experience of tackling seasonal flu, and set up fever clinics in general out-patient clinics across Hong Kong.

At these clinics, Yuen said patients without serious symptoms could be given a testing bottle and a pamphlet advising them under what circumstances they might need to visit A&E, and when it would be best to stay home and recover by “drinking more water and taking Panadol.”

New rules kick in

The latest round of social distancing rules kicked in on Thursday and will be in place for at least two weeks.

hair salon Covid-19
People line up outside a hair salon in a shopping mall in Sham Shui Po on February 8, 2022, hours after the government ordered all salons to close in two days until February 23, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Hair salons and religious venues have been forced to close, private gatherings of more than two households have been banned, and a two-person limit in public has been reintroduced.

The fine for failing to comply with a compulsory testing order has been doubled from HK$5,000, to HK$10,000, while the penalty for breaking other social distancing rules remains unchanged.

As of Thursday, Hong Kong has recorded a total of 17,808 infections and 215 deaths.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.