Hong Kong residents brace for citywide lockdown as leader calls for calm

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Hong Kong residents braced for a city-wide lockdown, emptying supermarkets and pharmacies Tuesday, even as leader Carrie Lam called for calm and appealed for the public not to worry over a compulsory mass COVID-19 testing plan.

Mass testing for the city’s 7.4 million residents is set to take place over nine days starting in the second half of March, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported, citing an unidentified source.

The news sparked concerns many people will be forced to isolate and families with members testing positive would be separated.

Officials are planning to test people three times over nine days, with the government still deliberating whether a lockdown would be done on a district basis or citywide, the SCMP said.

Exemptions would be made for those who buy food, seek medical treatment and maintain societal operations.

Hong Kong’s stock market would continue to operate, Sing Tao newspaper reported, citing unidentified sources.
Lam had previously said she was not considering a city-wide lockdown.

On Tuesday, she appealed to the public “not to fall prey to rumours to avoid unnecessary fears being stirred”, saying the supply of food and goods remained normal.

“There is no need for members of the public to worry, they should stay vigilant and pay attention to the information disseminated by the government so as to avoid being misled by rumours,” Lam said in a statement.

Despite her comments, dozens of people queued to enter pharmacies and banks across the city, while many scoured empty shelves in grocery stores to stock up on whatever essentials they could.

Streets and shopping malls in the heart of the city’s central financial district were eerily quiet in what would typically be a busy lunchtime period.

The Chinese ruled city has seen coronavirus infections surge some 34 times to over 34 000 on Monday from just over 100 at the start of February.

Deaths are also climbing, with facilities for storing dead bodies at hospitals and public mortuaries at maximum capacity.