Hong Kong leader calls for calm, after supermarkets emptied ahead of mass COVID testing
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong‘s leader Carrie Lam called for calm on Tuesday after residents emptied supermarkets, stocking up on produce ahead of reports of compulsory mass COVID-19 testing and rumours of a city-wide lockdown.
Local media reported compulsory COVID testing would start after March 17, sparking concerns many people will be forced to isolate and families with members testing positive would be separated.
Lam appealed to the public “not to fall prey to rumours to avoid unnecessary fears being stirred,” with the supply of food and goods remaining normal, according to a statement on Tuesday.
“There is no need for members of the public to worry, they should stay vigilant and pay attention to the information disseminated by the government so as to avoid being misled by rumours.”
Officials are planning to test the city’s 7.4 million people three times over nine days, with the government recommending that people stay home during the period, Sing Tao newspaper reported, citing unidentified sources.
Exemptions would be made for those who buy food, seek medical treatment and maintain societal operations. Hong Kong‘s stock market would continue to operate, the paper said.
Lam had previously said she was not considering a city-wide lockdown.
The Chinese ruled city has seen coronavirus infections surge some 34 times to over 34,000 on Monday from just over 100 at the start of February. Deaths are also climbing, with facilities for storing dead bodies at hospitals and public mortuaries at maximum capacity.
Hong Kong continues to stick to a COVID policy of “dynamic zero”, the same as mainland China, which seeks to curb all outbreaks at any cost. The Chinese ruled territory has implemented its most draconian measures since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
The rules have exacerbated separation fears among many families, with many fleeing ahead of the mass testing scheme and the build out of tens of thousands of isolation centres.
Lam, who inspected a mainland Chinese built isolation centre on Monday, said the team had raced against the clock to “create a miracle” in the city’s construction industry.
The Tsing Yi facility, located in the northwest of the city, would provide around 3,900 rooms for infected people with mild or no symptoms and others who need to isolate, she said.