Researchers from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) said on Tuesday that Hong Kong is facing a crossroad over whether to keep its dynamic clearance strategy against Covid-19, or move on to start treating it as an endemic disease that will keep circulating in the community for the long term.
The university's medical faculty estimates that around 4.4 million people in the SAR have already been infected, and predicts that around 2.2 million more will contract the coronavirus in the next wave of outbreak.
The faculty’s dean, Gabriel Leung, said Hong Kong would have to choose which strategy to adopt when daily infection figures are expected to fall to triple-digits as the government starts easing social distancing restrictions for businesses on April 21.
The first option, he said, is to stick with dynamic clearance, which would necessitate stringent measures such as multiple rounds of universal testing and isolating all infected patients and close contacts.
The second would be to treat Covid-19 as an endemic illness, and continue focusing on minimising severe cases and deaths, while ensuring that Hong Kong’s medical system can cope with the caseload.
To adopt this strategy, Leung said, authorities would also need to further boost Hong Kong’s vaccination rate as the population acquires more natural immunity through infection.
However, Leung admits there are many unknowns in pursuing this option, including the possible emergence of dangerous new strains.
That said, the expert concluded that from a “purely scientific and public health perspective”, it may be safe to try to move towards endemicity now, noting that the dominant variant at present is Omicron – which is more contagious but in general causes milder symptoms.
He said there's a consensus among the world's scientists that Covid will stay with humans for the foreseeable future, so even if Hong Kong tries to achieve zero infections again, it would only be an intermediate strategy before moving towards endemicity.
“They’re two stages of the same process, the same road,” he told a press conference. “We’re just talking about timing.”
"Nobody has actually tried [to stick to dynamic zero Covid] at the tail end of a very big wave [of infections], when the majority of the population has already been infected and recovered," he added.
Leung reiterated that getting vaccinated is still key to preventing serious illnesses, saying those who are triple-jabbed are 98 percent protected from becoming severely sick or dying from Covid.
"The overriding message is, get triple-jabbed, and it really doesn't matter which vaccine it is," Leung concluded.