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Hong Kong delays election amid Covid surge


Hong Kong will postpone the election of its next leader so it can focus on containing a rise in coronavirus cases caused by the Omicron variant, the city’s chief executive said on Friday.

Hong Kong’s leader is not elected by the public, but by an “election committee” of more than 1,400 Chinese Communist Party supporters. That committee’s vote, which was scheduled to take place on March 27, has been postponed to May 8, said chief executive Carrie Lam.

She also announced a plan to introduce compulsory testing for the city’s entire population of 7.5 million. She previously rejected calls from pro-Beijing lawmakers to introduce mandatory universal testing.

“Our government needs to focus on the epidemic,” Ms. Lam told a news conference on Friday. “We can’t afford to lose.”

Hong Kong is experiencing its worst pandemic wave yet, with patients waiting on sidewalks outside overwhelmed hospitals and quarantine facilities reaching capacity. On Friday, more than 3,600 new cases were reported. Before this week, the city had never seen more than 2,000 new daily cases.

Ms Lam said the city does not plan to go into lockdown as it continues to use a “dynamic zero” approach, aiming to crush every virus outbreak.

“In our case, after looking at the unique situation in Hong Kong, we will probably go for universal testing of everyone, but testing more times,” she said on Friday.

Before Omicron’s push, Hong Kong had largely managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic. It has recorded 240 Covid deaths over the past two years, including the 10 deaths reported on Friday.

Earlier this month, the city implemented its most restrictive social distancing rules yet, including limiting the number of households allowed to meet privately to two. The rapid rise in cases prompted the city to stop hospitalizing all Covid patients and instead ask some people with few or no symptoms to self-quarantine at government centers or at home.

Ms Lam, who was elected in 2017, did not say whether she would run again.

China is tightening its grip on Hong Kong through a national security law and a sweeping crackdown on dissent. In 2020, the Hong Kong government postponed the city’s September parliamentary elections for a year, citing the pandemic. The pro-democracy opposition saw in this decision an attempt to slow down its electoral momentum and avoid the defeat of the pro-Beijing candidates.

nytimes Gt

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