A temporary bridge linking Shenzhen and Hong Kong has been erected to help workers and materials from the mainland to enter the city as work began on a Covid-19 makeshift hospital to relieve pressure on the city’s overwhelmed medical system.
Almost 2,000 Chinese contractors from the China State Construction Engineering are in Hong Kong this week to build the makeshift facility near Hong Kong’s border with the mainland, which is expected to provide 1,000 more hospital beds and quarantine rooms for up to 10,000 people.
The bridge, constructed over the weekend to combat the city’s soaring hospitalisations, was authorised by the city’s number two official under the city’s emergency situation legislation and will be pulled down once the facility is complete, according to officials. Chinese construction support will also take place at nine other facilities across the city.
As Hong Kong struggles with a devastating fifth wave, authorities have heavily relied on Beijing for support. Doctors and nurses from the mainland have also been allowed to work in the city, while Beijing has provided 29m rapid antigen tests and 54m masks as of Tuesday.
The city reported 28,466 local infections and 291 more deaths on Tuesday. The Omicron-fuelled outbreak pushed the city’s daily community infections to a record of 56,827 last Thursday. Hong Kong has been recording about 150 deaths each day, giving it the world’s highest death rate per 1 million people, according to the Our World in Data.
The outbreak has inundated the city’s hospitals, with some seeing patients in hospital beds moved into car parks. At least one hospital has temporarily stored bodies in its corridors, while the city’s morgues have also hit capacity. Supermarkets and pharmacies have experienced shortages as residents stockpile supplies. Schools have also been forced to close until April.
The majority of Covid deaths have been among the unvaccinated elderly. Around 70% of Hong Kong’s population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, although the percentage is lower among seniors despite consistent government efforts to raise vaccination levels.
Despite the record infections, a top Chinese health official in Hong Kong on Tuesday urged city authorities to persevere its “dynamic zero approach” to drive infections down to as close to zero as possible.
“Reducing infection, severe cases and deaths is Hong Kong’s most urgent and top priority at the current stage,” said China’s national health Commission’s Liang Wannian told Chinese state media Xinhua.
The latest wave may have however reached its peak, according to new modelling data from researchers at the University of Hong Kong on Tuesday. The new estimates suggest the city’s daily infections will drop down to the hundreds by late April.
The new figures also suggest that up to 2 million people have been infected with the virus since the latest outbreak began in February, almost a third of the city’s population.
Hong Kong has also rolled back on previous plans for city-wide mandatory testing, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday saying it was no longer a priority, though may still be conducted.
Officials had previously floated plans to test the city’s entire population – similar to operations on mainland China in a bid to curb infections – although not date had been set.