AP PHOTOS: Scenes from Hong Kong's COVID-19 crisis

March 8, 2022 GMT

HONG KONG (AP) — The fast-spreading omicron variant is overwhelming Hong Kong, prompting mass testing, quarantines, supermarket panic-buying and a shortage of hospital beds. Even the morgues are overflowing, forcing authorities to store bodies in refrigerated shipping containers.

As the global death toll from the coronavirus topped 6 million this week, the semi-autonomous Chinese city has been recording about 150 deaths per day, giving it the world’s highest death rate per 1 million people, according to the Our World in Data website.

More than 2,000 people have died in less than three months in Hong Kong since Dec. 31. By comparison, the city of 7.4 million people had lost just 213 people to COVID-19 previously.

A low vaccination rate, particularly among the elderly, is one of the key factors in the latest surge. An analysis of the first 1,153 fatal cases in the current wave showed just 8% had received two doses of a vaccine.

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About 78% of the population has received two doses, compared to 92% in Singapore, and more than 80% in Japan, Canada and mainland China. The vaccination rates for children and those 70 years old and above are much lower.

While not quite as rigid, Hong Kong’s approach largely mirrors the strict “zero-COVID” policy in the mainland. The central government in mainland China has sent in experts and is helping build both temporary isolation facilities and testing areas.

An advisory group led by Liang Wannian, the head of a mainland China COVID-19 task force, has been visiting community vaccination centers and the fire and ambulance service training academy to exchange views.

China has also sent mobile labs to handle the volume of tests anticipated in a planned citywide testing of the population this month.

Full Coverage: Photography