At a time when an outbreak of Covid-19 attributed to the omicron variant is engulfing Hong Kong, its 7.4 million people are wondering what will come next. Uncertainty reigns in that city, where half of its inhabitants would be infected with the virus, but the problem also extends to other cities such as Beijing, which is paralyzed.
In Hong Kong, products are disappearing from stores, Chinese companies are building sprawling isolation and diagnostic centers and the government has sent mixed signals about whether it will order a mass confinement for a testing program. In addition, health workers in Hong Kong began today to store the bodies of those who died from this disease in refrigerated containers due to the lack of space in morgues.
The situation is so worrying that as a result of this outbreak in China, fuel consumption was reduced, which affected the demand for oil worldwide, and that also caused the price to fall in recent days.
Pandemic restrictions have deflated this cosmopolitan city famous for its neon signs and large crowds. The latest restriction, announced today, covers public beaches. The health system is overwhelmed and many patients are left to fend for themselves. And the death toll, particularly among the elderly population, continues to climb.
“It’s a desperate situation,” said Wong Wing-tsang, a single mother who spent days trying to get her 10-year-old daughter, who tested positive, to a doctor. “We can only depend on ourselves,” she added.
After managing to keep the virus at bay for almost two years, Hong Kong is suffering from an outbreak caused by the contagious omicron variant. The contagion has spread so widely that there are not enough drivers for the bus and subway system, and many stores have had to close for lack of workers.
China has sent in experts, doctors and construction teams, expanding capacity to deal with the crisis but also raising fears that Hong Kong will enforce harsh restrictions put in place by the central government, such as mandatory lockdowns for entire cities. Anxious residents have been buying up masses of basic goods, while the government is giving mixed signals on whether to test the entire population or order a full lockdown. Cases of the virus have become so widespread among truckers that meat and vegetable shipments have been disrupted, sparking fears of shortages.
“Honestly, I think the government changes its mind so much that it’s hard for us people to plan,” said Alison Hui, a Hong Kong resident. “We never know if an ad is true or not. It really causes a lot of concern,” she added.
Some analysts are already daring to catalog the “failure of Chinese vaccines”, since they see in this outbreak a situation in which the inoculant produced in that country would not be having an effect. That is why scientists are doomed to find a reinforcement that allows them to cut off contagion.
Health workers in Hong Kong began this Wednesday to store the bodies of those who died from covid-19 in refrigerated containers due to the lack of space in the morgues, due to a sharp increase in infections attributed to the omicron variant. Hong Kong has been hit in recent months by a deadly outbreak of the coronavirus that has overwhelmed its health system and caused a wave of deaths, especially among the elderly population who have refused to be vaccinated.
In the last three months, since the appearance of the contagious omicron variant, the city has registered almost a million infections and 4,600 deaths. A representative of the funeral sector told local media that the increase in deaths has exhausted the availability of coffins.
The head of the local government, Carrie Lam, acknowledged the situation at a press conference and assured that two shipments of coffins from mainland China will soon arrive. “We will try to find a way for the family to recover the body so that the funeral can be organized soon. The crematoriums … have also been working at full capacity,” she said.
Shenzen, the “Chinese Silicon Valley”, threatens the economy
For its part, another cost of this regrowth is the economic one. For example, the confinement of the city of Shenzhen, the “Chinese Silicon Valley” where video games and smartphones are produced for everyone, threatens the good health of the Asian giant’s economy and worries the markets.
Faced with the worst outbreak of covid-19 in the country in two years, the city council of the city, which has become a symbol of modern China, closed public transport and urged the 17.5 million inhabitants to stay at home. He asked companies to telecommute, something the city’s hundreds of factories, whose closures will surely disrupt global supply chains, cannot do.
Shenzhen, the third largest city in China in terms of GDP and bordering the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong, is the headquarters of the Chinese giants Huawei (telephony, 5G) and Tencent (internet, video games). Therefore, a prolonged confinement would have consequences.
“For China, it is a manufacturing hub and a technology hub,” said Hong Hao of financial services company Bocom International. The Taiwanese giant Foxconn, Apple’s main supplier, has already had to suspend its operations in Shenzhen. Others, such as the Chinese manufacturer Netac (which makes hard drives or memory cards), have also stopped some of their production.
Electronic and mechanical products account for around 80% of the city’s exports. “The lockdown is significant and I don’t think we have fully assessed the impact it will have yet,” Hong said.