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How Hong Kong Became China's Biggest COVID-19 Problem

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How Hong Kong Became China's Biggest COVID-19 Problem



friday, Mar. 4 was an ominous day in the history of the COVID-19 pandemic in China. Health authorities recorded 294 cases, of which 233 were imported. To countries around the world that have made the decision to live with coronavirus and tally daily caseloads in the tens of thousands, these were figures to be envied. But with its zero-COVID policy, China steadfastly refuses to allow the virus to establish a foothold within its borders.To get more news about covid cases in shanghai, you can visit shine news official website.
Worryingly, nearly half the imported figure—117 cases—were recorded in China’s most populous province, the southern economic powerhouse of Guangdong. The great majority of those cases, 96, were found in the city of Shenzhen, a booming technology and finance hub that is the jewel of the province. The others were discovered in nearby cities like Zhuhai and Zhongshan—and all but two of the imported cases originated from Hong Kong, where cases have exploded, fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. Two days earlier, on Mar. 2, the one-time British colony recorded more than 55,000 cases in a single day and earned the ghastly distinction of being the place with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in the developed world.

Hong Kong’s differences with China are often emphasized. It is a Chinese territory, but operates semi-autonomously, with its own legal, political, and financial systems, and issuing its own travel documents. But while Hong Kong has an administrative border with China, it and the ten other cities of Guangdong’s Greater Bay Area are physically part of one vast, contiguous conurbation of 86 million people. The office towers of Shenzhen loom over Hong Kong’s northern suburbs and the two municipalities are connected by ferry, bus, and rail services that, at their quickest, take just 20 minutes.

Although only limited movement between Hong Kong and the mainland has been permitted during the pandemic, with significant restrictions on travelers, it is inevitable that Hong Kong’s COVID-19 crisis would spread to the densely populated hinterland, given its proximity. Imported cases from Hong Kong have now been found in at least seven Guangdong cities and provincial authorities are scrambling to contain the damage.

The stakes are enormous. Modeling by Chinese researchers projects that hundreds of millions of infections would spread across the country, resulting in at least three million deaths, without aggressive zero-COVID policies. Given its patchy healthcare system and critically low number of ICU beds, a breach of the COVID defenses could spell disaster.

For now, most of the imported cases “will not spread infection because of the very strict precautions, the testing and the quarantine,” says Ben Cowling, who heads the division of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) School of Public Health. But, he warns, “the more opportunities the virus has, sooner or later, it will find a way.”
Leo Poon, head of the public health laboratory science division at HKU, agrees. He points out that even if travelers from Hong Kong present negative tests when entering mainland China, “they may still be in the incubation period” and “be able to spread the disease.”

There was a dramatic exodus from Hong Kong during the first two years of the pandemic, as businesses and individuals chafed under onerous travel restrictions—including a notorious 21-day quarantine—imposed by local authorities to keep COVID-19 out. The latest wave of infection is only fueling the outflow of people, as thousands choose to leave Hong Kong altogether or sit out the surge elsewhere.

Many are fleeing stringent isolation requirements that have seen babies separated from parents and people fully recovered from COVID-19 left to languish in makeshift government holding centers days after meeting discharge criteria. The mental toll of extended confinement can be severe. In February, four suicide attempts were recorded in just over 24 hours at the notorious Penny’s Bay quarantine center, which one inhabitant described as like “living inside a mad house.”

“We don’t know what the government situation is going to be like, what sort of measures they’re going to take,” Hong Kong resident Edward Zhao tells TIME. “It’s just the uncertainty of what happens in the situation where the government decides to put you in quarantine.”

The 32-year-old is eyeing New Zealand as a temporary refuge. Singapore is another popular bolt hole. Australia has also seen a recent spike, mostly from middle-aged Hong Kong residents enrolling in degree courses Down Under, in the hope that they can bring their dependents with them on student visas.
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