Hong Kong transport operators, supermarkets cut services as COVID cases surge

March 3, 2022 - 4:02 PM
Customers wearing face masks shop in front of partially empty shelves at a supermarket, ahead of mass coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing, in Hong Kong, China March 2, 2022. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

 Hong Kong’s subway operator, bus companies and one of the city’s biggest supermarket chains said they were reducing services this week due to a worsening COVID-19 outbreak that has seen daily infections explode since early February.

The latest strains came as Hong Kong authorities clung firmly to their “dynamic zero” coronavirus strategy which, like mainland China’s seeks to curb all outbreaks at any cost.

The global financial hub’s Transport Department said 98 bus routes would be suspended with operators facing critical manpower shortages.

A rise of infected people coupled with a drop in customers due to stringent social distancing measures made it hard to maintain operations, it said in a statement late on Wednesday.

The city’s subway operator MTR Corp 0066.HK, known for its efficiency, said on Thursday it would cut services on eight lines because of staff shortages and a sharp drop in customers.

“We have been striving to maintain train service despite the worsening COVID-19 situation. However, the latest development of the pandemic is affecting the manpower for daily operations,” it said on its website.

ParknShop, one of the city’s largest supermarket chains, said it was shortening opening hours for more than 200 outlets to protect its staff and customers. Some stores would close as early as 3 p.m., it said.

Since the pandemic began in 2020, the tally of infections in the Chinese-ruled city stands at more than 290,000, with a death toll of about 1,100.

About 700 of those deaths have been in the past week, with the majority unvaccinated people.

Health experts from the University of Hong Kong estimated about 1.7 million people were already infected by Monday, with the coming week expected to bring a peak of about 183,000 daily infections.

There has been widespread confusion and chaos among many residents this week due to the government’s mixed messaging over whether a city-wide lockdown would take place and the almost daily tweaking of coronavirus rules.

Hong Kong’s international reputation had been “very damaged” by the confusing messages, creating alarm, said prominent businessman and government adviser Allan Zeman.

—Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Cynthia Osterman