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First Take

Hong Kong COVID deaths: Virus’ rise from the dead

Published on March 17, 2022

By N Ahmad

Just as we thought that the Covid-19 pandemic was coming to an end, and economies around the world were beginning to recover, the outbreak of the contagion in Hong-Kong and several other countries has once again placed the world at risk. 

The daily death toll from complications caused by Covid-19 in the city state has crossed the 100 mark since March 1,  posing a greater risk to its elderly, a significant number of whom are unvaccinated.

Hong Kong has witnessed a steep spike in cases since December despite being the country least affected by the pandemic over the last two years. An official estimate puts the number of cases over 740,000 out of a population of 7.4 million. But researchers at the University of Hong Kong have estimated that 3.6 million people – almost half the population – have contracted the virus. By the time the wave reaches its peak, around 4.3 million people – about 58 percent of the city’s population – are expected to have been infected.

The city has also recorded 4000 deaths, mostly among the elderly, which is the world’s highest death rate per capita. Similar outbreaks but on a smaller scale have been reported in China, Singapore and New Zealand, which effectively means that the Covid-19 pandemic is here to stay for now.

At a press conference on March 14, the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, was asked that Hong Kong’s ongoing death and infection rate has surpassed that of London, New York and Singapore in the last two years. 

This is borne out by the news and videos coming out of the city which show hospitals and morgues overflowing. Images of body bags piling up in hospitals have gone viral just like they did in India May-June last year.

Carrie Lam said the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government has put in all the necessary resources and efforts in order to keep people safe. 

“We did achieve objective of keeping Hong Kong people safe until we were hard hit by the fifth wave arising from the highly transmissible Omicron,” she said adding that despite the past successes, Hong Kong on this occasion is no exception to this highly transmissible wave. 

“There’s a lot of reason to that, which we have explained on previous occasions. The most saddening part of it is (lack of adequate) vaccination. We have spent over one year to promote, to encourage, to coerce people to take the jab, but unfortunately, partly because of the low infection rate in the last year or so, and partly because of anxiety and worries and so on (many people didn’t get jabbed),” she added.

The section of people who have witnessed the least vaccination is the elderly as also acknowledged by Lam. 

“We have not achieved a high rate of vaccination, especially amongst the elderly, particularly amongst elderly in elderly homes,” Lam said. “We should take a critical look in order to prepare us for a future public health crisis. That includes how we are going to upgrade the standard of our elderly homes.”

The Government provides a wide variety of social services and benefits to the elderly, including Community Care and Support Services, Residential Care Services and Social Security. combined with non-governmental support services. These measures ensure that the elderly receive the help they need.

In the last two years, Hong Kong’s care homes for the elderly managed to ward off Covid-19 infections. But the highly transmissible Omicron variant penetrated the SOP shield and caused a largescale outbreak of infections and deaths.

There are 589 care homes for the elderlyin Hong Kong that have recorded Covid-19 infections including among their staff.  Nearly 75,000 elderly and disabled people live in residential facilities in Hong Kong. Most of the elderly rely on ancient Chinese medicine.

The Government of Hong Kong decided on March 6 to strengthen virus testing in all districts, which led to the detection of many positive cases, suggesting that there may be hidden Covid-19 patients.