Hong Kong’s Covid-19 death toll has exceeded the number of coronavirus-related fatalities in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was first reported in December 2019.

The city confirmed another 264 deaths on Sunday, bringing the total to 3,993. Wuhan authorities recorded 3,869 fatalities among Covid-19 patients in April 2020. There have been no known deaths since.

Hong Kong is in the midst of battling its fifth – and worst – coronavirus wave. In recent weeks, viral pictures of elderly residents on gurneys spilling out into hospital carparks, and body bags lying next to patients have captured the deadly toll of the outbreak, which was under control for much of 2021.

Data analysis by HKFP comparing Hong Kong’s Covid-19 epidemic with the situation in Singapore, London and New York City found that the local infection rate since the discovery of the Omicron variant far exceeds that of the other three cities.

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Hong Kong’s recent surge in fatalities was also unmatched, with a death rate of 3.44 per 100,000 people on March 10. The figure was less than 0.2 in Singapore, London and New York City.

Vaccination to blame

During a daily Covid-19 briefing chaired by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday, the leader said in response to HKFP that her administration had “put in all the necessary resources and efforts to keep Hong Kong people safe” since the pandemic started.

But the city was “hard hit” by Omicron, she said, adding that the “most saddening part of it is vaccination.”

Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong during the fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“We have spent over one year to promote, encourage, coerce people to take the jab. But unfortunately, the entire society partly because of the low infection rate in the last year or so and partly because of anxiety and worries and so on, we have not achieved this high rate of vaccination, especially among the elderly,” Lam said.

Hong Kong has struggled to get its vulnerable senior citizens on board with Covid-19 inoculations. Authorities said last week that vaccination teams will visit all elderly and disabled care facilities – which have emerged as hotspots in the recent wave – to administer jabs.

Just over half of the city’s Covid-19 fatalities were patients living in care homes.

Salvation Army Po Lam Residence for Senior Citizens. Photo: Salvation Army

David Hui, a Chinese University professor who is advising the government on its pandemic response, told HKFP last week that the low vaccination coverage among the older population was the main reason behind the high death toll.

“For those aged 80 or more, only 30 per cent have received two or more jabs,” he said.

Close to 95 per cent of the city’s Covid-19 deaths have occurred during the fifth wave.

Mainland medics to arrive

In the same press briefing, Lam said the first batch of medical personnel from mainland China would arrive in Hong Kong on Monday.

The team of 75 medics will assist Hospital Authority staff in treating Covid-19 patients. Another 300 are expected to arrive within the week.

“Here, I must thank the central government. In this month or two, they have responded to our calls… helping us to treat patients in [a] serious condition and reduce deaths,” Lam said.

The community isolation facility in Fanling, with read banners reading “help from Central government” and “fight the epidemic together.” Photo: GovHK.

Meanwhile, two more community isolation facilities built with the help of mainland China opened over the weekend. The units will take in Covid-19 patients with mild or no symptoms.

The two centres, in Fanling and a site north of Tuen Mun near the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, will provide an additional 2,200 beds.

The room occupancy rate at the isolation facilities in Tsing Yi and San Tin was at around 80 per cent, authorities said on Saturday.

Hong Kong has recorded 706,877 Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.