COVID surges in Hong Kong, leader urges vaccines

STORY: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Friday that the city’s COVID-19 vaccination program would focus on its elderly and children, as authorities battled to reduce a massive surge in infections and climbing death rates.

Health authorities reported over 29,000 new infections and 196 deaths on Friday.

In total since early 2020, the global financial hub has recorded almost 650,000 COVID-19 infections and about 3,500 deaths – most of them in the past two weeks.

Hong Kong registered the most deaths per million people globally in the week to March 9, according to data publication Our World in Data. Most have been unvaccinated senior citizens.

Until this year, the Chinese-ruled city had an enviable track record of controlling the virus due to stringent measures as part of its "zero covid" approach, which like mainland China seeks to eradicate outbreaks at all costs.

Yet even mainland China reported over 1,000 new COVID-19 infections in dozens of cities, the highest daily count in about two years, with the Omicron variant forcing a northeastern city to go under lockdown and the financial hub Shanghai to close schools.

But many residents in the former British colony chose to remain unvaccinated for most of 2021, due to the minimal number of infections and fear of side effects, particularly among the elderly.

Now hospitals, morgues, and isolation centers are overflowing, while some supermarkets and grocery stores still have empty shelves nearly two weeks after residents began stocking up in anticipation of a potential city-wide lockdown.

In a daily news briefing, Lam told reporters, quote, "Over 90% of the deaths were those who had not been fully vaccinated. We need to catch up and vaccinate every Hong Kong citizen.”

Lam said her government was shifting its approach to target the elderly with more medical resources. It was also planning to hold a mass testing scheme for the city’s 7.4 million residents in March.

However, Lam said this week there was no time frame for the testing and would only be done if there were sufficient resources.

Many residents have been frustrated about what they see as constant changes in the government's policy.