By Tom Grundy and Candice Chau

Hong Kong’s small-circle leadership race will be postponed to May 8, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Friday, as the city struggles to contain thousands of new Covid-19 infections.

Lam also said that the government is drafting a plan for city-wide compulsory testing, and that she expects the pandemic situation will only stabilise in two to three months.

Nominations for the top job were meant to open on Sunday ahead of the election on March 27, though only one candidate had confirmed they intended to stand – pro-Beijing businessman Checkley Sin. The new nomination period will run from April 3 until April 16.

Lam – who chooses not to wear a mask during press events – said that the decision was made after the Executive Council held a special meeting on Friday, agreeing to use the Emergency Regulation Ordinance to delay the race: “Although holding this public election only involves 1,462 election committee members, this election itself will bring a certain level of public health risk,” she said.

Lam said that the decision to postpone the election was “difficult,” but she thought that the decision was “suitable for Hong Kong’s situation and public interest.”

Beijing ‘instructions’

Earlier on Friday, Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee Tam Yiu-chung called for the chief executive election to be postponed in light of the Covid-19 outbreak, rebuffing questions about legal concerns: “There’s no need to worry about it… Those things don’t matter. The legal procedures… there’s no problem. It will definitely be done in accordance with the constitution, the Basic Law, due procedures and regulations.”

Xi Jinping. File photo: South African Government, via Flickr.

Friday’s postponement came after China’s leader Xi Jinping reportedly gave “important instructions” that the Hong Kong government has to prioritise keeping the Covid-19 pandemic under control.

All candidates joining the race are vetted by a panel of top government officials and elected by fewer than 1,500 elite, establishment voters. In 2020, the newly-restrictive legislative council elections were also postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Thousands of daily cases

Hospitals have been struggling to cope with the influx of Covid-positive patients, with Beijing vowing to send test kits and medics to the city amid a shortage.

Lam said that plans for citywide Covid-19 testing were being drafted with the outbreak now exceeding the size of the original 2020 outbreak in Wuhan.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam. File Photo: GovHK.

“We will test everyone in Hong Kong, but mandatory testing and a complete city lockdown may not need to go hand-in-hand… we probably will just go for universal testing of everyone – but testing more times,” Lam said, referring to the approach of neighbouring Macau.

The number of cases during Hong Kong’s fifth wave this year are higher than the number of infections seen in 2020 and 2021.

Hong Kong reported 3,629 new Covid-19 infections on Friday, and 10 more deaths. The city has seen over 40,000 cases since the onset of the pandemic two years ago, whilst 248 have succumbed to the virus.

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