As bodies pile up amid a shortage of coffins in Hong during a devastating COVID wave, the city has announced it will begin major rollbacks from pandemic restrictions over the next month.
At a press conference on Monday, chief executive Carrie Lam announced that flight bans in nine countries would be lifted and the length of hotel quarantine for fully vaccinated residents from those countries would be cut in half. seven days from April 1.
The easing of restrictions comes as Hong Kong’s funeral industry has raced to find coffins for the troubling death rate in the city. On Saturday, 3,200 bodies were kept in warehouses in Hong Kong, according to the Ministry of Health.
The announcement also deviates from the course taken by the rest of China.
As tens of millions of residents in mainland China remain in lockdown and the rest of the country sticks to a “zero COVID” policy, Lam announced that social distancing measures would be relaxed in three phases starting April 21. .
The first phase would reopen gyms, beauty salons, religious venues and sports facilities, as well as extend dine-in hours for restaurants. The second phase would reopen businesses like bars and pubs and the third would see the return of in-person classes for students.
Over the past three months, Hong Kong has reported more than 4,600 COVID deaths, which have overwhelmed the city’s morgues and depleted its supply of coffins.
Funeral industry representatives told local media that the city needs about 300 caskets each day to respond to daily deaths.
“If the government cannot ensure a steady and constant supply of coffins to Hong Kong every day, it will lead to a backlog of corpses in public mortuaries, leading to serious hygiene issues and an increased risk of another pandemic,” said Hong Kong Funeral. Business association chairman Ng Yiu-tong said South China Morning Post Last week.
The rising death toll is largely due to its unvaccinated elderly population.
As of Monday, only 56% of people aged 70 and over had received at least two doses of a COVID vaccine. These numbers are even lower among residents 80 and older, with only 39% having received their second dose.
Despite the appalling numbers, Hong Kong is trying to “revive” its economy in a bid to keep workers out of the city.
Last month, more than 94,000 people left Hong Kong, while around 23,000 returned, resulting in the loss of more than 70,000 people.
“I have a very strong feeling that people’s tolerance is fading. I have a very good [feeling] that some of our financial institutions are losing patience with this kind of isolated Hong Kong status, because Hong Kong is an international financial center,” Lam said last week.