A top mainland Chinese Covid-19 expert has said that Hong Kong’s main concern is reducing the numbers of infections, serious cases and deaths, after spending over a week visiting the city’s anti-epidemic facilities and meeting with local officials.

In an interview with state-owned Xinhua News Agency on Monday, Liang Wannian, the head of the Covid-19 task force under mainland China’s National Health Commission, said that the city should “reduce infections, reduce serious cases, reduce deaths” as a priority. To do so, Hong Kong must focus its efforts on its elderly population, he said.

Mainland expert Liang Wannian (centre) speaking with Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan (left). Photo: HK Gov handout.

Liang also said the government mantra of “dynamic zero” does not refer to “zero infections.”

“We would work towards reducing infections, and once infected, [figure out] how to identify it quickly and take measures to cut off the chain of transmission,” he said in the interview. “I think this is the essence of dynamic zero. [We] can’t understand dynamic zero as zero infections.”

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A delegation of mainland infectious disease experts from Guangzhou and Zhongshan arrived in Hong Kong on February 18, around which time the city was recording about 3,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases a day. Another mainland delegation led by Liang arrived from Beijing 10 days later. By then, daily infections had jumped 10-fold to 34,000 new cases.

Both groups were personally welcomed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam at the border.

‘Substantial adjustments’

Tens of thousands of users tried to access the government platform for registering positive Covid-19 rapid antigen test results on Monday, with screenshots showing queues of more than 200,000 within hours of the website launching.

While infection figures dropped from almost 57,000 last week to around 25,000 new infections on Monday, health officials have said the drop could be because more people were relying on rapid testing at home, which are not yet included in official statistics.

Public hospitals continue to be overwhelmed by elderly patients in a serious condition, and refrigerated containers have been brought in to store corpses. Meanwhile, authorities have been ramping up construction of temporary isolation facilities made out of container units, which are designed to house tens of thousands of Covid-19 patients with only mild or no symptoms.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (second right), National Health Commission expert Liang Wannian (second left). Photo: HK Gov handout.

Citing unnamed government sources, Ming Pao reported on Tuesday that the government is looking to “substantially adjust” its anti-epidemic strategy based on Liang’s recommendations, with the hopes of seeing results in the next two weeks. Reducing serious cases and infections would follow.

Rolling out mandatory testing for all is not a current priority, according to the newspaper. The source also said about 20 per cent of the city’s population may have been infected, based on estimations.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.