March 20222022International NewsAsia

Hong Kong Maintains Zero-Tolerance Policy as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Leah Chan
Staff Writer

Amidst the ease of pandemic restrictions around the globe, Hong Kong is facing a devastating surge in COVID-19 cases, reports The Guardian

Hong Kong, following in the footsteps of mainland China, has maintained a zero-tolerance COVID-19 restriction policy over the course of the pandemic. This approach proved to be largely effective up until the recent emergence of the Omicron variant. Statistics provided by Reuters exhibit the exponential rise in cases across the region, documenting an average of 19,844 new infections daily, with the highest daily average thus far reported on March 3. 

The rampant spread of the Omicron variant throughout the territory can be largely attributed to its urban layout. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 7.4 million individuals residing in the metropolis. This makes executing quarantine restrictions difficult, Al Jazeera explains, as the majority of Hong Kong residents live in densely populated apartment complexes. 

The rapid surge has left many hospitals and other public health facilities overwhelmed and understaffed. According to The Guardian, construction workers from mainland China are being recruited to build isolation units in the hopes of alleviating some of the pressure medical facilities are facing. Subsequently, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that dispensable infrastructure will be temporarily converted into isolation housing. In a similar vein, health care workers from the mainland are also mobilizing to aid Hong Kong, continues Al Jazeera.

Another factor that has expedited the proliferation of COVID-19 cases is the refusal of many Chinese citizens, predominantly  the elderly, to get the vaccine. This has proved to be one of the most contentious issues worldwide throughout the pandemic, with a myriad of self-acclaimed “anti-vaxxers” enthralling the media worldwide. Skeptics around the globe have called into question the efficacy and overall safety of newly developed COVID-19 vaccines. 

The New York Times reports that many of the deaths due to the virus in Hong Kong that were recorded in the month of February were individuals who were over 70 and unvaccinated. In interviews with several unvaccinated elderly citizens, it was revealed that much of their reluctance is facilitated by a general distrust of the government as well as vaccine misinformation. To improve inoculation rates among the population, Hong Kong’s government policy was changed to require proof of vaccination for admittance to many public places, such as grocery stores and shopping malls. 

The rise of COVID-19 cases in tandem with the low vaccination rate of the elderly poses a particular threat to nursing homes throughout the region. Similarly to the plight of hospitals, retirement homes are encountering a devastating lack of resources, inhibiting the proper care and isolation of their residents. Many of the preventative measures taken by these care centers, including the complete prohibition of visitors, have failed to protect senior citizens from the Omicron variant, continues The New York Times

Public health and care facilities are not the only institutions threatened by the spike in cases; Hong Kong’s stringent policy has also had a detrimental impact on the economy. The Associated Press asserts that the adopted zero-tolerance approach, which involves the imposition of heavy border restrictions, has eliminated one of the area’s vital sources of economic growth; tourism. Another article from The New York Times explains the importance of international trade to Hong Kong’s economy, likewise diminished by Chinese virus regulations. Private businesses have suffered the consequences of these tight restrictions, many of which have been entirely decimated by the government’s response to the pandemic.

As of now, it is unclear how Hong Kong will proceed, considering the adverse effects of their combative strategies which are reaped by Chinese citizens. As the pandemic persists, it becomes more and more unclear whether a zero-tolerance policy is a pragmatic solution. 

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