Live coronavirus updates and omicron variant news

HONG KONG — Pressured by a new wave of infections linked to the omicron variant, the Hong Kong government has ended its practice of hospitalizing all people with covid infections, regardless of severity.

Authorities said on Sunday that priority admission to hospitals will be given to children, the elderly and those in serious condition, as daily rates of new infections soar to more than 1,000 a day from hundreds just a week ago.

The spike came after families and loved ones gathered during Lunar New Year celebrations.

Larry Lee, head of integrated clinical services at the Public Hospital Authority, said the latest arrangements are “not ideal”, but stressed that limited resources must be earmarked for those who need them most. Instead of being sent to hospital immediately, those who test positive but are in stable condition with milder symptoms can stay home and await treatment, Lee said.

“We will try to ensure that patients can be admitted in a timely manner,” he said.

The new policy represents a step back from the city’s ‘zero covid’ approach that has crumbled in the face of the latest wave.

The city recorded eight coronavirus-related deaths last week. On Sunday, authorities reported 1,347 new cases, most involving the omicron variant.

Strict measures have long kept infection rates in the city low, with just 221 deaths in the past two years, but daily cases have reached unprecedented levels, straining resources.

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong have predicted 1,000 deaths by June and said a “two to three month lockdown” is the only hope of returning to zero cases. However, the government announced on Sunday that it would temporarily rule out a lockdown but set up joint task forces with neighboring Guangdong on the mainland.

“We are now in the toughest battle against this virus in two years, and we believe the number of infections will remain high,” said Edwin Tsui of the Center for Health Protection.

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