Hong Kong’s daily Covid-19 infection figures dropped below 10,000 per day over the weekend – a level not seen for a month. However, a health official and a top medical expert both warned that Hongkongers must remain vigilant, or risk a rebound.

This photo taken on March 18, 2022 shows people sitting on a street cordoned off by police with bars and restaurants closed due to Covid-19 coronavirus restrictions in Hong Kong. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP)
This photo taken on March 18, 2022 shows people sitting on a street cordoned off by police with bars and restaurants closed due to Covid-19 coronavirus restrictions in Hong Kong. Photo: Dale de la Rey/AFP.

The city’s health authorities reported 8,841 new coronavirus cases on Saturday and 8,037 on Sunday, returning to the four-figure sums seen before February 25.

Meanwhile, the total number of Covid-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic breached 7,000 on Saturday. The vast majority of fatalities involve unvaccinated elderly residents who died during this year’s Omicron-fuelled fifth wave.

The Centre for Health Protection’s Albert Au said that reduced infection numbers “is a positive phenomenon, meaning that the epidemic is stabilising,” although the the city’s residents “need to be aware that the current level – at 8,000 to 10,000 cases a day – is still quite high.”

“These are not circumstances for relaxing social distancing measures,” Au said during a routine press briefing on Sunday.

Having thousands of new infections a day means there are still many transmission chains in the community that could cause another outbreak as soon as people become less vigilant in maintaining social distance and in limiting gatherings, he said.

‘Everything we predicted’ happened

Meanwhile, the head of University of Hong Kong’s school of medicine and government advisor Gabriel Leung said after a Commercial Radio interview on Sunday that the city’s Covid numbers merely moved from an “extremely high level” to a “very high” level. He said residents must not be mistaken about the outbreak ending and relax.

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If there is a rebound, the city may not be able to resume normal life even by April 21, when the majority of the city’s Covid-19 rules are set to expire, the professor in public health medicine said.

“Unfortunately, everything we predicted using science has happened,” Leung said on radio. He was among the first people who urged the government to tighten social distancing measures as early as January 3, four days after the city first detected an Omicron case.

He also cautioned that the city has – by now – completed only “60 per cent of the path” towards living with Covid-19 as an endemic disease.

“We don’t have two paths to choose from, we only have one path. And that is not a path we chose – it is the law of nature. Different paths will ultimately come back to the same destination. That we move towards an endemic disease using the safest way, or we do so by cutting all and every transmission [chain], it is a matter of time.”

One path to endemic disease

One of the ways to achieve this is by boosting vaccination in a manner as precisely as possible, Leung said. The government should consider requiring every elderly and disability care home to report their vaccination figures to the government and the public on a daily basis. The Social Welfare Department and the Home Affairs Department, meanwhile, should work on identifying and reaching out to elderly people hidden from the city’s welfare system in order to help get them jabbed, he said.

Patrick Nip
Patrick Nip. Photo: Patrick Nip, via Facebook.

Authorities will from next week begin registering the identities of unvaccinated individuals over 70, as well as those with a disability or long term illness found during Covid-19 overnight testing lockdowns, according to the head of the city’s vaccination effort Patrick Nip.

If they test negative, government workers will return the next day to offer vaccination, the civil service chief said at a daily press conference on Sunday. The government has launched a platform to record the details of these individuals, and it is being piloted by community groups. It will be expanded to include more elderly and disabled individuals for vaccination at home, he said.

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Since the start of the pandemic, Hong Kong has seen 1.2 million cases and 7,101 related deaths.

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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.