Hong Kong postpones leader election amid COVID-19 outbreak

February 18, 2022 GMT
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Hong Kong will postpone elections for its next leader until May 8, as the city grapples with a worsening coronavirus outbreak with thousands of infections daily. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Hong Kong will postpone elections for its next leader until May 8, as the city grapples with a worsening coronavirus outbreak with thousands of infections daily. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Hong Kong will postpone elections for its next leader until May 8, as the city grapples with a worsening coronavirus outbreak with thousands of infections daily. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Hong Kong will postpone elections for its next leader until May 8, as the city grapples with a worsening coronavirus outbreak with thousands of infections daily. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Hong Kong will postpone elections for its next leader until May 8, as the city grapples with a worsening coronavirus outbreak with thousands of infections daily. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong will postpone the election of its next leader until May 8 as it grapples with a worsening coronavirus outbreak with thousands of new infections daily.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Friday the election will be delayed six weeks from March 27 because holding the polls as originally scheduled would pose “public health risks” even if a committee of only 1,462 people is involved.

Hong Kong’s leader is elected by a committee made up of legislators, representatives of various industries and professions, and pro-Beijing representatives such as Hong Kong deputies to the Chinese national parliament.

Several candidates including film producer Checkley Sin and Titus Wu, a former member of Hong Kong’s largest pro-establishment political party, have confirmed their intention to run. It is not clear if Lam will run for reelection.

Lam also said there were plans to test the entire city of Hong Kong for COVID-19, but denied that it would be put under a strict lockdown even as the city pursues a “zero COVID” approach.

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“Mandatory testing and a complete city lockdown may not need to go hand in hand. It depends on the actual situation,” she said. “In our case, having examined the unique situation in Hong Kong, we’ll probably just go for universal testing of everyone, but testing more times.”

She cited as an example Macao, which has tested its entire population twice for the virus.

Health authorities said Thursday that the city’s hospitals were at 90% capacity and that its isolation facilities were full. Hong Kong’s daily new cases exceeded 2,000 for the first time on Monday. On Friday, over 3,600 new local infections were reported.

Hong Kong has aligned itself with mainland China’s strict “zero-COVID” policy that involves quarantining incoming travelers, total lockdowns, extensive contact tracing and mass testing of millions of people.

Lam has stuck to the same strategy despite the city’s greater population density, higher incomes and more service-oriented economy than in mainland China. Last week, the entire upscale Discovery Bay neighborhood in Hong Kong was ordered to undergo testing after authorities found traces of the virus in its sewage.

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This story corrects that several people have said they will run in the election, not just one.