New Omicron variant wreaks havoc in Hong Kong, creating panic in China
It’s mid March 2022, over 2 years since COVID-19 began its reign of terror across the world. The majority of countries are now learning to “live with the virus”, with almost 5 billion people worldwide already having received their first COVID-19 vaccination, which equates to just over 65% of the global population…
How is it then that Hong Kong is making headline news for suddenly becoming the place with the highest COVID-19 fatality rate in the developed world?
News is circulating of corpses piling up in ICU departments because the morgues are overwhelmed, and they are trying to resolve this by sending the bodies to be cremated without family members even having the chance to hold a funeral. Hospitals can’t cope with the number of COVID-19 patients, and hundreds of thousands of people are lining up for mandatory testing, staying out in the cold for hours upon hours, because their track and trace systems have ordered them to do so…
On top of all of this, COVID testing results in Hong Kong regularly take more than 10 days to return to the patient. This means that the time, energy and suffering involved in queuing for tests is all in vain – not to mention the added risk of spreading the virus by being in close proximity with thousands of others.
What has been the lead-up to this?
Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic in late 2019, until the latest wave in December 2021, there were a mere 12,000 registered COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong, with just 200 COVID-related deaths in a population of 7.4 million people.
It seemed like the city had everything under control, thanks to extremely strict travel restrictions that essentially cut the population off from the rest of the world… This was all very well at the time as it allowed them to avoid what much of the world was experiencing – overwhelmed hospitals having to care for patients in corridors and parking lots, fully occupied ICU beds and morgues that couldn’t handle the number of corpses being sent their way.
It was a terrifying time, but the countries that were experiencing this were living through the trauma together, so there at least seemed to be a sense of comfort in the shared trauma.
Now Hong Kong stands alone, being one of the only places in the world currently still making shocking COVID-19 related headlines, with half a million people having tested positive for COVID in the last two months alone. With this comes a death toll that has also increased tenfold from 213 in the two years prior to more than 2,800 since the beginning of the most recent wave.
What are the figures?
Hong Kong’s figures don’t seem astounding when compared to the rest of the world (take for example the United States below). However, it’s important to note that this huge surge has swept across the nation in just over 60 days – and when we consider the relatively small population of Hong Kong, the statistics are shocking.
The reason that it is so frightening is due to the fact that Hong Kong has almost 30 new deaths per million over a seven-day moving average as of March 7, according to ‘Our World in Data’. With this figure likely to increase as the weeks move forward and the virus continues to spread, this may be just the beginning of a very worrisome time yet to come.
How bad could this wave of COVID-19 become?
In an attempt to keep Coronavirus infections at bay, it wasn’t just Hong Kong that opted for severe travel restrictions and extreme quarantine procedures for their people. This safety strategy was also mirrored by mainland China. This means that neither have experienced the virus like the rest of the world, and so the possibility of this becoming a huge problem across China’s population of 1.4 billion and beyond is very real.
Why has Hong Kong been hit so hard?
One factor that may be a concern adding to this rapid rate of infection could be that their people just don’t have the antibodies to fight off the virus as their immune systems have never had to deal with it before.
The latest Omicron sub-variant, BA.2, also known as ‘Stealth Variant’, which you can read more about here, has recently been identified as the most contagious of all Coronavirus variants. This was detected for the first time in late January, and has since become the dominant strain of all new COVID-19 infections in at least 18 countries and counting.
One study in Japan states that this strain spreads up to 30% more easily than the original Omicron variant, which had already been dubbed the most contagious strain of COVID-19. With the world having begun loosening travel restrictions, BA.2 couldn’t have come at a worse time. The fact that Hong Kong had worked so hard to keep any form of the virus out seems to have only made it easier for BA.2 to attack.
Another likely reason behind the sudden surge is Hong Kong’s overcrowded living conditions. It is not uncommon for up to 8 people to share a 200 square ft. apartment – this is the equivalent of about the size of a one-car garage.
Then there are the stats: the deaths that have been recorded during the current wave in Hong Kong have been elderly people, with 91% of mortalities coming from those who were not double vaccinated, according to government data.
Should mainland China be concerned?
This is particularly concerning when those that are considered elderly – or aged over 60 years old – total 264 million people, which is almost 19% of China’s population. Vaccination rates remain low for this demographic, with only 40% of those over the age of 80 years old being vaccinated, while in some areas, this figure falls below 30%.
The above fears have been confirmed by Chinese researchers who have projected that hundreds of millions of COVID cases would spread across the country, with the result being at least three million fatalities, if harsh zero-COVID policies are not put into place.
On March 6th, China reported some of its highest COVID-19 figures since the initial news of the first Coronavirus cases in Wuhan, so how this is managed in the coming weeks will be critical…
What you can do to stay safe
As we have seen time and time again, new variants have the power to cause a sudden, global catastrophe, so it is essential to prioritize being tested for COVID-19 to ensure that you are not helping the virus spread. Read more about the BA.2 variant and its correlated symptoms here.