HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s worst outbreak of the pandemic didn’t come until 2022, but the scenes are right out of 2020.
Hospitals and morgues are overflowing, with bodies left unattended in hallways and in rooms with living patients. Health care workers report burnout and low morale as they work 80 hours a week. And nursing homes are being ravaged, with low vaccination rates among older people driving Hong Kong’s Covid-19 deaths per capita to the highest in the world, according to Our World in Data.
Calvin Kong, an emergency physician at a public hospital, said he and his colleagues were in a “living hell” evoking the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.
“We have so much lead time and experience, but still we have to suffer from a health care system breakdown,” he said. “Health authorities have not learned a lesson after two years.”
The outbreak, driven by the more transmissible omicron variant, has come as a shock to the Chinese territory, where a “zero-Covid” strategy of mass testing, contact tracing, border closures and strict quarantine requirements kept cases and deaths to a minimum for almost two years. While experts agree that approach made sense for Hong Kong early in the pandemic, critics say it also bred complacency, and the government was caught unprepared by an outbreak many had warned was inevitable.