Even with newly tightened social distancing measures, the city could see a peak of 28,000 daily Covid-19 cases in mid- to late-March, according to the University of Hong Kong. The dean of the university’s medical faculty urged a city-wide lockdown to reduce death rate.

Hong Kong authorities implemented a new round of social distancing measures on Thursday, which reintroduced a two-person limit in public, among other social activity restrictions. The city is experiencing a fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak led by the highly transmissible Omicron variant that has infected more than 5,000 people since it began in late-December.

The University of Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

However, according to epidemiological modelling by public health experts at the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine of HKU, the new restrictions would not successfully bring the pandemic under control.

When presenting the forecasts of the models on Thursday, Joseph Wu, a professor at the faculty’s Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, said that under the current public health and social distancing measures, each patient could continue to infect 1.5 people on average. This would lead to nearly 28,000 daily cases by the latter half of March, while nearly 97,000 would have to be quarantined.

Wu said the daily number of deaths would reach 15 to 20 in mid-April, with a cumulative death toll of more than 950 by mid-June.

Gabriel Leung. Photo: Screenshot.

Wu also said it was the first time the government had enacted the current measures and estimated that they would be hard to sustain over a long period.

According to their forecasts, if social distancing measures are relaxed by the end of February to allow dine-in services before 9 p.m. and school classes are to resume, the death toll could surge to more than 5,000 in mid-June. If the public health system was to become overloaded, there could be almost 7,000 deaths by then, Wu said.

The Dean of the medical faculty Gabriel Leung said a full city-wide lockdown would have the “most ideal” effect, and the city “can afford no delay” in the implementation of related measures. Estimates showed that the daily case number would be reduced to zero by mid-April, if Hong Kong were to adopt similar lockdown policies to places like Guangzhou, Nanjing and Xiamen.

“Possibly, death toll would not be in the thousands [after city-wide lockdowns] – it may be 115 – and the Hospital Authority would definitely not be overwhelmed.” Leung said, urging authorities to “actively consider” the option.

Meeting with mainland authorities

Meanwhile, the city has seen hour-long queues in Covid-19 testing centres, and one expert has said that Hong Kong’s medical resources and manpower were no match the pandemic at this stage.

A queue for a Covid-19 test in Lei Tung, Sha Tin, on February 5, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

Secretary of Food and Health Sophia Chan told lawmakers on Friday that government officials are going to have a meeting with mainland authorities. “At the moment, the Chief Secretary for Administration, Chief Executive and other officials are discussing what assistance is required, and facilities are one of the considerations,” Chan said.

Citing sources, HK01 reported on Friday that high ranking government officials would visit Shenzhen for an emergency conference over the weekend and ask for aid from mainland authorities.

Hong Kong authorities aimed to double daily testing capacity with the mainland’s help and to set up a temporary medical and quarantine facility similar to the Huoshenshan Hospital built in Wuhan to accommodate patients in the early stages of the pandemic, according to HK01.

Queues to leave the city

There have also been long queues at border control points as some residents told local media that they were getting out of the city to “avoid the pandemic.”

Staff carry out Covid-19 tests in Lei Tung, Sha Tin, on February 5, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

According to Immigration Department statistics, the number of travellers passing through the Shenzhen Bay Port to China surpassed 2,100 on Tuesday and Wednesday, exceeding the 2,000 daily quota. On February 1, 946 people crossed into the mainland via Shenzhen Bay. The numbers rose steadily until Tuesday, when 2,170 people passed through the control point.

The Shenzhen People’s Government Port Office published a notice on Wednesday saying there were unregistered visitors stranded at the port and urging travellers to follow reservation rules. The number of travellers that went through Shenzhen Bay dropped to 1,473 on Thursday.

As of Thursday, Hong Kong has recorded 18,794 cases and 216 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Peter Lee

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.