Hong Kong’s new health chief has rejected calls for quarantine-free travel in the near future and to live with Covid-19, even as the city relaxes some restrictions amid a surge in cases, according to an interview with local newspaper Oriental Daily.
Lo Chung-mau, who was appointed Secretary for Health by new Chief Executive John Lee, said that it’s unreasonable to pursue a full-blown border reopening with mainland China or the rest of the world, and that the government is currently targeting reducing inconveniences to allow more people to travel. The city would see far more than 9,000 deaths if it were to live with the virus, Lo added, citing the large numbers of deaths in the US and UK after the countries reopened.
Lee has said that Hong Kong must reduce travel inconveniences while curbing the spread of the virus, confirming that the city will continue to adhere to China’s Covid
-Zero policy and avoid lifting travel restrictions completely.
The Hong Kong government has relaxed some measures recently, including the suspension of a system that banned airlines if they carried too many infected passengers. However, local business groups have been pushing the government above all to cancel hotel quarantine, arguing the city risks losing its status as a global financial hub if travel continues to be restrictive.
A surge in infections will further test Hong Kong’s ability to relax travel. The city reported more than 3,000 cases on Thursday, with health officials warning that daily infections could double in two weeks. Lo said in the interview that he’s concerned that the rising tally will pressure the city’s health system, and called for more people, especially the elderly, to get vaccinated. About 89 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, but the ratio falls to 64 percent for those 80 and above.
The number of Covid
patients in Hong Kong’s hospitals has doubled to more than 800 from last month, health officials said earlier this week. If the situation deteriorates, hospitals may have to suspend non-essential care services to cope with the pressure, they added.