Hong Kong needs to protect its health-care system, which is under tremendous stress right now due to a spike in coronavirus cases, a health expert told CNBC on Friday.
Hong Kong is into its fifth wave, driven by the more transmissible omicron strain. Cases have surged sharply, from just over 100 new cases per day at the start of February, to a record of 6,166 new cases on Thursday.
“Essentially, in Hong Kong right now, what we need to do is to protect the integrity of the health system,” said Gabriel Leung, dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong. “The health system in Hong Kong currently is under enormous stress.”
Authorities have blamed the surge on the “extreme transmission speed” of the omicron variant, and said that the “tsunami” of news cases has “far exceeded” the city’s capacity for treatment, tracing, testing and isolation.
Hospitals are facing “immense pressure,” the government said this week. The occupancy rate at public hospitals was at 92% as of Feb. 18, data from Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority showed.
According to media reports, there were scenes of patients huddled on beds left in the open outside the hospitals, as facilities became overwhelmed.
Leung told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” that the city needs to slow down the speed of the current surge.
“The only way you can slow it down now is really to go and reduce further the people from mixing with each other and from moving about in the city,” he said.
“So whether you call that a lockdown, or whether you call that enhanced or stepped up public health and social measures, I don’t really mind — the jargon is not the important thing.”
“What we need to do desperately is to make sure that we protect the integrity of the hospital system, such that we prevent people from further deteriorating if they really need help in the hospitals,” he continued.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday there were no plans for a citywide lockdown.
“The immediate response of the Hong Kong SAR Government … is to enhance the capacities at various parts of this anti-epidemic effort, and we are doing this,” she said.
“I would have to say it very clearly that we have no plans for any widespread city lockdown as you have seen in some of the other places,” she told reporters.