Hong Kong's economy suffers from a 'No-COVID" policy as more cases are filed
HONG KONG (AP), Hong Kong's Fung Shing Restaurant bustled this week with customers looking for the famous Cantonese dimsum.
The COVID-19 regulations affecting the bottom line of the restaurant have forced it to close its doors on Sunday. This is another economic victim of this pandemic.
Many are worried that Hong Kong will be the next to suffer the worst, with its most severe epidemic. They also worry that the authorities' insistence on sticking to the "zero tolerance" strategy of mainland China may hinder Hong Kong's recovery as a financial and travel hub.
Gary Ng, senior economist at Natixis, said that even if zero-COVID is possible, it is uncertain how long it can last and what it will cost to maintain it. There are many shops that advertise "for rent" in popular shopping and dining areas. The international airport is almost empty of tourists.
Restaurants are losing critical revenues from dinner and banquets because of a ban on dining onsite after 6 p.m.
On Monday, the number of coronavirus infections per day was over 2,000. Thursday saw 6,116 cases.
The city is considering converting hotels and unoccupied public housing to quarantine areas as hospitals are getting overwhelmed. It is not hesitant to follow mainland China's strict policies, even as the rest the world learns how to live with coronavirus.
China has taken measures to lock down entire cities as part of its zero tolerance strategy. They provide food and supplies, and keep people inside their homes.
China is home to many cities. Hong Kong is a former British colony, but it's a semi-autonomous area of China. It lacks the resources to lock down the entire city. This would cause economic chaos in the city of 7.5 million. People living in Hong Kong are also more free than those who live on the mainland. There has been vehement criticism of lockdowns of single buildings and city blocks.
Singapore, a regional rival, is facing a similar outbreak of coronavirus infection caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant. It has chosen to "live with COVID" and has increased its vaccination rates. This requires widespread testing. Singapore allows COVID-19 patients who have mild to no symptoms to be isolated at home, unlike Hong Kong which requires people who are positive for quarantine in hospitals and other government facilities.
While Singapore's health system is not at risk of being overwhelmed, Hong Kong hospitals are at 90 percent capacity. Some have even had to admit patients outside due to lack of space.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's leader, is not showing any signs of resigning from her "zero COVID" stance. She said Thursday that fighting the pandemic was her "paramount task" which she would not allow to be distracted by "other things".
She stated that "We will impose all measures we should." "The goal is to ensure Hong Kong citizens' lives and health, and to maintain Hong Kong's stability.
Lam announced Friday that she would postpone the election of the chief executive in the city for six weeks, from May 8, due to "public safety risks" at this point in the pandemic. Lam is not yet certain if she will run for reelection.
Officials have announced that some mildly ill patients will be allowed to leave hospitals within seven days. This is half the time it took before this change was made. If they are positive and do not live with high-risk people, it will relieve pressure on hospitals.
The current rate at which infections are spreading is alarming. It's possible that daily new cases will rise to 28,000 per day by March.
However, easing the zero-COVID policy would make it difficult to travel between Hong Kong and the mainland. Authorities require at least three weeks of quarantine. Beijing won't reopen Hong Kong’s borders with mainland until it has zero COVID-19 cases.
Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, stated this week that Hong Kong has an "overriding mission" to control the situation. To assist with testing, some mainland health experts arrived on Thursday. Beijing also sent other resources and antibodies.
Customers at Fung Shing Restaurant felt powerless.
Mo Wan, a customer of the restaurant for 10 years, said that she felt helpless because the pandemic was affecting her restaurant. "I have forged a deep friendship and trust with the staff."
Michael Leung, Chairman of the Association for Hong Kong Catering Services Management which represents 800 restaurant owners, stated that up to 3,000 of Hong Kong’s 17,000 restaurants could close if March restrictions continue.
Leung temporarily closed his restaurant, Lucky Dragon Palace.
The establishment is sprawling and would have been able to accommodate 1,000 people before the pandemic. Leung plans to pay the rent while saving money on utilities and labor until he is able to reopen.
He said, "The pandemic has become very serious. There's not much on the streets." It means that there is no business for restaurants if people are not going out. We are really affected by this fifth wave. It's a new era in the catering industry.