Ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping has stepped up pressure on the Hong Kong government, telling the city’s leadership to get a handle on mushrooming COVID-19 cases, as the country pushes ahead with its zero-COVID policy.
“Recently, general secretary Xi Jinping made important instructions on supporting Hong Kong’s anti-pandemic work … [conveying] his high concern over the situation in Hong Kong and cordial care for its citizens to chief executive Carrie Lam,” the CCP-backed Ta Kung Pao newspaper reported on Wednesday.
“[Xi said] the Hong Kong government must take full and earnest responsibility and make the stabilization and control of the outbreak its overriding priority, mobilizing all of the forces and resources it can,” the paper cited Xi as saying.
Lam’s government should “take all necessary measures to ensure the life safety and health of Hong Kong citizens, and ensure the overall stability of Hong Kong society,” Xi said.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) said Xi’s comments had put the Hong Kong government, which is struggling to contain an outbreak of the omicron variant of COVID-19, “on notice.”
Xi had instructed authorities in the neighboring mainland Chinese province of Guangdong to provide PCR test kits and rapid antigen test kits and other medical supplies to Hong Kong, along with disease control and prevention experts to offer “guidance.”
Impatience in Beijing
The report suggests there is growing impatience in Beijing with the failure of Lam’s administration to curb the outbreak.
Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday reported a total of 4,285 confirmed cases, with another 7,000 preliminary positive infections, all but 21 of which were acquired in the community.
Nine people have died with COVID-19 so far, including a three-year-old girl.
“Top mainland epidemiologists said Hong Kong must … resort to stricter measures to stamp out the coronavirus infection and inject much-needed confidence in the city to keep the virus at bay,” the paper said.
Hospital Authority Employees Alliance chairman David Chan said medical staff in the Hospital Authority’s public hospitals are “exhausted” in the face of ever-changing guidelines, and many have been working overtime for days now.
He said morale was low as staff were expected to treat elderly and frail patients outside of emergency rooms at several public hospitals.
“Colleagues feel that they move the goalposts every day, with policies changing every few days, even though the situation hasn’t changed,” Chan told RFA. “My colleagues are at a loss and under great pressure.”
“We are also very sad because there are many patients waiting in emergency departments, but services cannot be provided in a timely manner,” he said. “The Hospital Authority does not have a complete plan for frontline colleagues to follow.”
“It seems to be making up as it goes along.”
Misjudging the situation
Lam has said she is committed to the CCP’s dynamic zero-COVID approach, but that the authorities have been hampered by a lack of testing capacity, and that the government is awaiting delivery of 100 million rapid antigen test kits and preparing more isolation facilities.
Former public doctors’ union leader Arisina Ma said the government seems to be mis-allocating resources and misjudging the situation.
“There is data showing that the enforced admission of everyone to the hospital or to an isolation facility is no longer feasible,” Ma said. “There are no longer enough staff.”
“You can carry out mass-testing, door-to-door, but what are you going to do to ensure emergency rooms aren’t overloaded [by people who have tested positive]?”
“If a million people are diagnosed, do you have a million hospital beds for them, or should they receive treatment at home?” Ma said.
She said the government should reallocate manpower and resources to give priority to the elderly, young children, and those with severe symptoms, while informing the general public how to treat themselves at home, if their cases are mild.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.