Hong Kong residents emptied store shelves in a scramble to prepare for a reported lockdown of the city later this month when officials will carry out a mandatory testing drive intended to contain a snowballing Covid outbreak.
Restrictions on movement within the city will be enforced to ensure the testing effort is effective, Sing Tao Daily and other domestic media reported Tuesday. Testing of the financial hub’s 7.4 million people will start after March 17, Sing Tao said, citing people it didn’t identify.
With no official information released and uncertainty building over the extent of the lockdown, waves of panic-buying stripped supermarkets and pharmacies of supplies. Long lines were also seen outside some banks.
Shoppers emptied supermarket shelves in Hong Kong Monday over fears of a lockdown to control the city’s worst #Covid19 wave.— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) March 1, 2022
Officials plan to enforce a full-scale lockdown this month, local media reports https://t.co/Hkh8kijRcC pic.twitter.com/G5KMjBWbGL
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Officials are aiming to test the whole city three times over nine days, with a stay-at-home order in place to maximize impact, Sing Tao and other media including the South China Morning Post reported. Hong Kong’s core financial services including the operations of the stock exchange will continue during the testing period, according to the report. Officials were said to be still working out the specifics.
Residents will be allowed to leave their homes to buy necessities like food during the lockdown, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported along with the SCMP, both citing unidentified people. Exemptions will be made for some essential workers, but the government is still assessing how widespread the lockdown will be and whether to make moves such as halting public transport, according to the SCMP.
The rush to secure supplies in the city came despite the government’s reassurance late Monday night that food supply in Hong Kong was stable, with vegetables and chilled poultry imported from the mainland on Sunday at 90% of the average daily volume last year.
After two years of limited outbreaks, Hong Kong is facing its toughest challenge of the pandemic, with the highly transmissible omicron variant testing its zero-tolerance, high-intensity approach to keeping Covid out. New cases have ballooned from a few hundred a day to more than 34,000 on Monday.
Deaths have surged to eight per 1 million people over the past 10 days, one of the world’s highest rates, with the under-vaccinated elderly population bearing the brunt. Officials have already had to relinquish some key containment measures, including mandatory isolation of patients and detailed contact tracing, as the outbreak spirals out of control.