QR codes for the "LeaveHomeSafe" COVID-19 contact-tracing app are seen outside a shopping mall at the first day of a vaccine passport roll out, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hong Kong, China, February 24, 2022.
Hong Kong rolls out a vaccine passport on Thursday that requires people aged 12 and above to have at least one COVID-19 vaccination and also tightened restrictions in a city that already has some of the most stringent rules in the world.
Residents will have to show their vaccine record to access venues including supermarkets, malls and restaurants. They will also have to wear masks for all outdoor exercise and will not be allowed to remove masks to eat or drink on public transport.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong reported a record 8,674 new COVID-19 infections as the global financial hub prepares for compulsory testing of its 7.4 million people - part of its "dynamic zero COVID" strategy similar to mainland China.
"Hong Kong is now facing a very dire epidemic situation which continues to deteriorate rapidly," the government said in a statement on Thursday.
"Hong Kong's healthcare system, manpower, anti-epidemic facilities and resources, etc. will soon be insufficient to handle the huge number of newly confirmed cases detected every day."
With bars, gyms and other businesses already closed and shopping malls deserted while many residents work from home, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday schools would break early for summer and resume the new year in August.
Many in the city are growing fatigued with the situation, as most other major cities learn to live with the virus.
As the urgency grows, construction work has started on a facility on Lantau Island to build about 10,000 community and isolation units, while private hospitals will take in patients from public hospitals.
With the city's testing, treatment and isolation capacity already stretched to the maximum, University of Hong Kong researchers predicted new infections could peak at 180,000 a day next month.
Source: Reuters / Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Lincoln Feast.