Hong Kong is struggling to bring its worst coronavirus outbreak under control since the pandemic began, warning it lacks the testing capacity to carry out the strict strategy imposed by Beijing.
In Shenzhen and Shanghai in mainland China, authorities imposed restrictions on millions of people days after local outbreaks to test every resident. But Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam noted on Monday that her city does not have the same capacity.
“Hong Kong is very different from many cities on the mainland, so we can’t have a comparison,” Ms Lam told reporters at a news conference.
The difference comes down to resources and governance systems, Ms. Lam said. Shenzhen and Shanghai can test millions a day; Hong Kong health officials can only test between 200,000 and 300,000 people a day.
Hong Kong, one of the last places in the world still trying to shake off the virus instead of living with it, has reported more than 700,000 cases and 4,066 deaths since late January. Over the past week, Hong Kong has averaged more than 280 deaths and 21,000 new cases daily, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
It’s a strategy that was dictated by Beijing but is increasingly looking out of reach for Hong Kong, which continues to hold freedoms that don’t exist on the mainland.
In the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Xian, authorities halted daily life and confined residents to their homes for weeks until there were no more local cases. In Tianjin, they started testing every resident after only 20 coronavirus cases were reported.
Further separating Hong Kong from the mainland’s approach, Ms Lam said she would not consider tightening social distancing measures as she had to take into account what residents thought.
“I have to figure out if the public would accept new measures, so that we don’t just roll out new distancing measures,” Ms Lam said.
The outbreak and Ms. Lam’s ability to control it have been seen as a test of her leadership, though not determined by ordinary Hong Kong residents. The election of the city’s next leader will take place on May 8 and will be decided by an “election committee” of more than 1,400 people loyal to the Chinese Communist Party.
Ms Lam has come under public pressure to commit to a mass testing schedule since she first raised the possibility in mid-February.
Fears of a Wuhan- or Xian-style lockdown have prompted residents to empty supermarket shelves and hoard medicines. It has also led to an exodus of the city’s expat community, many of whom are tired of two years of strict pandemic measures and uncertainty over the end of city-imposed restrictions.
“If you want us to follow what Shenzhen is doing, which is introducing mandatory universal testing within three days, I’m afraid we’re falling short,” Ms Lam said. “It’s a reality we have to face.”
Monday, Hong Kong International Airport officials announced Mainland airline passengers will no longer be able to take a ferry from Shenzen Port Shekou to Hong Kong International Airport, suspending service from Tuesday.
Adel Hassan contributed report.