Hong Kong’s success in fighting COVID is haunting again

HANGKONG – For two years, Hong Kong has successfully isolated most of its residents from COVID-19 and often for months there has not been a single locally prevalent case. Then came the Omicron variant.

The mutation, which is spreading rapidly, has disrupted Hong Kong’s defenses and is rapidly spreading to one of the most populous places in the world, overcrowding hospitals and detention centers and calling for action. check all 7.4 million population and hastily build six isolation and treatment centers.

The surge shows what happens when COVID-19 affects a population vulnerable to immunity from previous infections, and found low levels of vaccination among senior citizens who bear the brunt of the crisis.

Only about 30% of Hong Kong residents are over the age of 80 and about 58% of those over the age of 70 are fully vaccinated, far behind the young population. And this despite the fact that vaccines have been widely available in Hong Kong since early 2021.

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Over the past three days, the city has reported 150 deaths, many among unvaccinated seniors.

Health authorities said the reluctance of the vaccine among the elderly was a sad side effect of Hong Kong’s success in fighting the virus for months.

Many people thought the risk of contracting COVID-19 was virtually zero, as there were no cases, and the elderly were led to believe that the risk of vaccination was higher than non-vaccination, said Karen Grapin, a health expert at the university. Hong Kong.

Hundreds of millions of blows have been inflicted on people around the world, and after intense security controls, several serious risks have been identified. But the first reports of several side effects to the vaccine in Hong Kong have created the false notion that people need to be perfectly healthy to get vaccinated.

“Hong Kong is the guinea pig in the world when it comes to the omicron,” Grapin said.

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The Hong Kong experience could also be a lesson for mainland China and its decision on when to reopen its borders and lift the two- to three-week quarantine requirement for anyone entering the country. Only a small part of the population became infected due to the Communist Party’s strict approach to zero COVID-19, which involves mass testing and blocking.

The response of the Hong Kong government was to extend the zero-approach approach to COVID-19. Chinese officials have urged Hong Kong to follow this approach despite grumbling residentswith even Leader Xi Jinping weighs to make sure the message has passed.

Under zero COVID-19 policy, anyone who gives a positive test in Hong Kong should be isolated. Although this has worked in the past, in Hong Kong, unlike the mainland, there are no beds to isolate so many people during the big outbreak.

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Building teams from the mainland are rushing to build two permanent and four temporary isolation and treatment centers to accommodate more than 20,000 patients, reminiscent of the first days of the virus when China dumped two temporary hospitals in Wuhan. days.

Authorities too launched the vaccine on Thursday, requires vaccinations to enter malls and other premises, and this is forcing some to get vaccinated.

“If I don’t get vaccinated, I won’t even be able to go to a restaurant,” 73-year-old Yu Mui said as she lined up on Friday to get her first dose. “So I have to come here today, though I’m worried about the side effects.”

Scientists believe that the omicron variant is milder than the delta version of the virus. But the situation in Hong Kong is almost unique. In other countries where the omicron variant was prevalent, people were immune to vaccines or previous infections, and this blunted the severity of the disease.

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Due to the fact that many people are not vaccinated and vulnerable, Michal Head, a global health expert from the University of Southampton, fears that in the coming weeks he may have “an alarmingly high severity of severe COVID-19”.

Some have called Omicron “soft”. But it is, of course, still serious enough to have a high mortality rate, much higher than the flu or other similar respiratory infections, ”he warned.

Irene Lung, 70, said she did not feel the need to get vaccinated earlier because the Hong Kong pandemic was under control. On Friday, she lined up to get the first dose.

“But it’s getting worse now, so I decided to come and get vaccinated,” she said. “It protects not only me, but my family members as well.”

And Hong Kong has announced that next month it will test everyone in the city, taking another page from the mainland textbook. China has sent experts and others to set up temporary laboratories to handle the volume of tests.

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But Benjamin Cowling, who is studying epidemics at the University of Hong Kong, advised not to conduct mass testing in March, as it will be difficult to fight the large number of confirmed cases that will throw out this approach. Instead, he suggested using more agile, rapid tests to warn people to isolate themselves at home if they are infected and have mild symptoms.

The ultra-contagious nature of the omicron variant means that if you don’t have incredibly strict blocking measures, wearing masks and social distancing norms, you won’t stop spreading, said Dr Jimmy Whitworth, an infectious disease specialist from London. School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Even China is struggling with a few outbreaks, although they are much smaller than in Hong Kong. China on Saturday reported 249 new cases on the mainland, 156 of which were among people who arrived from abroad.

For comparison, more than 17,000 new cases have been reported in Hong Kong in the last 24 hours and 66 deaths.

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Whitworth said Hong Kong’s priority now should be to promote vaccination. “This is definitely the most important message. And especially focused on the elderly, ”

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Gosal reported from New Delhi. Associated Press writer Ken Moritzuga of Beijing and news assistant Janice Lo of Hong Kong.

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Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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