By ALICE FUNG and DAVID RISING, Associated Press
HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s Fung Shing restaurant was bustling this week as customers came for one last taste of the traditional Cantonese dim sum that made it famous.
With COVID-19 restrictions reducing its results too deeply, the restaurant will close its doors permanently on Sunday, another economic victim of the pandemic.
Many fear the worst is yet to come, with Hong Kong experiencing its worst outbreak, and worry that authorities’ determination to stick to mainland China’s ‘zero tolerance’ strategy could prevent it from recovering. as a financial and tourist hub.
“While perhaps zero COVID can be achieved, there is still uncertainty about how long it will be sustained and the cost of sustaining it,” said Natixis chief economist Gary Ng.
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“Hong Kong’s biggest risk in 2022 is that it could head down a path of recession, if not recession, at least slower economic growth as the world begins to normalize. “Ng said.
Hong Kong has seen banks close branches and cinemas close. The streets of the popular shopping and dining districts are lined with shops displaying “for rent” signs. Its international airport is almost devoid of travellers.
A ban on eating in after 6 p.m., imposed last month, is starving restaurants of critical dinner and banquet revenue.
New daily coronavirus cases topped 2,000 for the first time on Monday; Thursday saw 6,116 new cases reported.
With hospitals overwhelmed, the city is considering converting unoccupied hotels and even social housing into quarantine zones. But that shows no signs of backing down from mainland China’s tough policies even as the rest of the world learns to live with the coronavirus.
As part of its zero tolerance strategy, China has locked down entire cities, literally keeping people sequestered in their homes and providing them with food and supplies as they are isolated during extensive testing and contact tracing to stifle The epidemics.
But China has many cities. Hong Kong, a former British colony and semi-autonomous region of China, lacks the resources for such a comprehensive lockdown, which would shut down virtually all economic activity in the city of around 7.5 million people.
And residents of Hong Kong, which was handed over to communist China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” approach, are used to more freedoms than mainland residents. Closings of individual buildings or city blocks have drawn heavy criticism.
Regional rival Singapore is facing a similar wave of coronavirus infections caused by the highly contagious omicron variant. But he opted for a “living with COVID” strategy. This requires very high vaccination rates and widespread testing. Unlike Hong Kong, which requires those who test positive to quarantine in hospitals or other government facilities, Singapore allows COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms to self-isolate at home.
So while Singapore’s healthcare system is not at risk of being overwhelmed, hospitals in Hong Kong are at 90% capacity and some have had to treat patients outside for lack of space inside.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam shows no sign of backing down from the “zero-COVID” stance, saying Thursday that fighting the pandemic is her “primary task” and that the city “would not be distracted by any other stuff”.
“We will impose all the measures we should,” she said. “The goal is to ensure that the lives and health of Hong Kong people are protected and to maintain Hong Kong’s stability.”
On Friday, Lam announced she was postponing the city’s chief executive election by six weeks to May 8 because of the “public health risks” it would pose at this stage of the pandemic. It is not yet clear whether Lam will stand for re-election.
To relieve some pressure on hospitals, officials are now saying some patients with mild symptoms will be able to leave hospitals after just seven days – half the current requirement – if they test negative and are not living with people at risk. high risk.
At the current rate of spread of infections, new daily cases could reach 28,000 by March, so it is not clear that this will be enough.
On the other hand, the relaxation of the zero COVID strategy would hamper travel between the city and the mainland, where authorities require three weeks of quarantine or more. Beijing will not reopen Hong Kong’s border with the mainland until the city reaches and maintains zero COVID-19 cases.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping said this week that Hong Kong’s “primary task” was to gain control of the situation. Some mainland health experts arrived on Thursday to help with the tests. Beijing also sent antibodies and other resources.
Customers at the Fung Shing restaurant said they felt helpless.
“I feel so helpless for this restaurant under the pandemic,” said customer Mo Wan, a 78-year-old who has been a regular for the past decade. “I have formed a deep friendship with the staff members.”
Up to 3,000 of Hong Kong’s 17,000 restaurants could end up closing if current restrictions continue until March, said Michael Leung, president of the Association for Hong Kong Catering Services Management, which represents 800 restaurateurs.
Leung has temporarily closed his own restaurant, Lucky Dragon Palace.
It’s a sprawling facility that would normally accommodate 1,000 people before the pandemic hit. Leung hopes to hold on, pay rent and save on labor and utilities until he can reopen.
“The pandemic is very serious, there is hardly anyone on the street,” he said. “With fewer people going out, it means there is no business for restaurants. This fifth wave is really impacting us terribly. It really is an ice age for the restaurant industry.
Rising reported from Bangkok. Associated Press reporter Janice Lo in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
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