University researchers have predicted new infections could peak at 180,000 a day next month for Hong Kong.
The global financial hub will roll out compulsory testing for COVID-19 starting in mid-March for its 7.4 million residents, according to leader Carrie Lam.
In a paper, Modelling the fifth wave of COVID-19 in Hong Kong, researchers at the University of Hong Kong said they updated their 10 February study to show the number of daily deaths potentially peaking at near 100 by late March, and cumulative deaths potentially rising to around 3,206 by mid-May.
Infections could peak at 180,000 a day.
Stringent coronavirus rules would be in place until mid-April with schools breaking early for summer and resuming the new year in August, she said, as authorities battle a massive rise in infections which have overwhelmed the healthcare system.
“The coming one to three months are crucial in fighting the pandemic,” Lam told a press briefing.
Residents would need to test three times under the compulsory testing scheme with daily testing capacity reaching one million. Venues including school campuses could be used for testing and isolation, she said.
Hong Kong is home to some of the most densely populated districts on Earth, with the majority of people living in high-rise apartment blocks cheek by jowl with family members and often sharing cramped lifts.
Lam reiterated the city’s “dynamic zero COVID” strategy similar to mainland China, aiming to eradicate any outbreaks at all costs. She repeatedly thanked mainland authorities for their “staunch support.”
She said authorities were not considering a city-wide lockdown, like those in mainland China.
The central government would however help to build a temporary hospital.
Health authorities reported 6,211 new cases, 32 deaths and a further 9,369 cases that came up positive in preliminary tests. They said a backlog in testing meant they were unable to get a full picture.
Less than two weeks ago, the same researchers had predicted daily infections potentially peaking at around 28,000 by mid-March with a total of 954 deaths by the end of June.
In the absence of much more intensive social distancing measures, like a city-wide lockdown, “the trajectory of the fifth wave is unlikely to change substantially from its current course”, the study said.
Hong Kong has reported that since the start of February daily infections have surged by around 70 times, overwhelming the government’s testing, hospital and quarantine capacities, as it attempts to stifle the virus.
Hong Kong already has some of the world’s toughest rules to curb COVID-19. Stringent restrictions mean that very few flights are able to land while most transit passengers are banned.
Lam said a flight ban from nine countries including the United States and Britain would remain in place until April 20 with other countries potentially being added to the list.
Gatherings of more than two people are banned and most venues, including schools, gyms and beauty salons, are closed.