Omicron exposes Hong Kong’s weakness
The scenes were straight out of China’s coronavirus playbook. Armies of workers, deployed to lock down residents. Plans to erect a massive makeshift hospital. And on Wednesday, a command from Xi Jinping, the country’s top leader, plastered across local front pages: “Make controlling the epidemic as soon as possible an overwhelming priority.”
The site of the latest outbreak, though, was not mainland China, but neighbouring Hong Kong. And unlike on the mainland, where the government’s lofty language has been followed by quick results, no such relief is in sight.
As Hong Kong sinks under its worst wave yet of the coronavirus, overwhelmed hospitals have left patients waiting on sidewalks. People have stood in testing lines that wind across parks and soccer fields. Cases are still growing exponentially, as officials opt for targeted lockdowns rather than a citywide one.
Researchers have warned that by summer the latest wave could kill nearly 1,000 people — more than four times the number that have died of Covid in Hong Kong over the past two years. The city’s flailing response has exposed a crucial weakness in its ability to handle the coronavirus.
Unlike other places facing a surge of the omicron variant, Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese city, cannot choose to live with the virus; Beijing continues to demand local elimination. But the city, which retains certain freedoms unheard-of in the mainland, also cannot wield Beijing’s full authoritarian tool kit or nearly unlimited manpower to stamp out transmission at any cost.
(New York Times News Service)